Content warning: This article discusses policy and events surrounding sexual misconduct.
This past May, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced revisions to Title IX regulations, changing disciplinary proceedings for sexual misconduct at Lewis & Clark.
To comply with these new directives and continue to receive federal funding, LC’s Office of Equity and Inclusion released an updated Sexual Misconduct Policy, effective Aug. 17. The two key changes to LC policy are a new requirement for live hearings with cross-examination and new procedures for investigations of misconduct occurring outside of the U.S.
Associate Dean of Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator Casey Bieberich said that not all students reporting sexual misconduct should expect a live hearing with cross-examination. But if a student reporting Title IX misconduct takes “disciplinary action against someone — interim suspension, suspension, expulsion — you need to have that hearing.”
However, those accused of misconduct and their alleged victim can use online platforms like Zoom to attend the live hearing from separate locations. Advisors representing each party, rather than the students personally involved, conduct cross-examination. While either party may hire an outside lawyer, LC law students enrolled in Bieberich’s new course, Title IX on Campus, will offer “no-cost representation that is still high quality.”
Even with these accommodations, Bieberich acknowledged the mixed reaction to the federal cross-examination mandate.
“It’s something that people are really upset about, and felt was directly designed to discourage reporting and people coming forward,” Bieberich said. “That is the part that has really been a struggle to implement.”
LC’s Office of Equity and Inclusion faces additional challenges when adhering to DeVos’ standards.
“The trend of this national regulation is to really legalize everything, make everything quasi-judicial, much more parallel to the legal system, and that is a hard ask, especially for small colleges,” Bieberich said. “We don’t have subpoenas. We don’t have warrants … We don’t have a lot of the tools that are used in something like a criminal case, or even a civil case to get really strong, reliable pieces of evidence.”
For now, LC will continue to use an Obama-era standard. In a 2011 letter to colleges, the Obama administration recommended finding students or staff in violation of Title IX if “it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred.”
A second DeVos change removes colleges’ previous obligation to investigate sexual misconduct taking place during overseas programs. In an Aug. 17 message to the community, Dean of Equity and Inclusion Mark Figueroa and Bieberich wrote that “the campus will be available and responsive regardless of where harm or conduct occurred.” During her interview, Bieberich put simply that “Lewis & Clark still cares.” The college will offer its own separate disciplinary proceedings if sexual misconduct occurs when LC clubs travel. DeVos’ strict requirements for a live hearing and cross-examination may not apply in these disciplinary proceedings conducted outside Title IX.
Official LC policy revisions arrive a month after a class of 2019 alumna posted a video to YouTube alleging that the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and the now-defunct provost office violated Title IX throughout her sexual misconduct case’s proceedings. The alumna claimed that LC did not inform her of her right to counsel while a lawyer wrote statements for her wealthy alleged assailant.
Since the video’s release, students and alumni submitted 174 stories of sexual misconduct to @superstarterpac on Instagram. Student-led organization Take Action LC (TALC) outlined their demands in a petition to the president, vice presidents, deans and trustees.
Over 1,400 current students and alumni signed. Bieberich characterized TALC’s demands as “great asks about how Lewis & Clark can do work differently.” However, DeVos’ new Title IX regulations will complicate how LC can respond to student critiques or condemnation.
This is a developing story.