Editor’s Note: This article contains mention of sexual harassment and assault.
After a two year review process by the Title IX Policy Committee, the updated version of Oberlin’s Sexual Misconduct Policy was approved via a vote by the General Faculty Council on Oct. 16. The edits include changes to how the College holds live hearings and additional options for mediation and restorative justice when parties do not want to go through a formal hearing, among other things. The committee also edited the policy to clarify language and remove repetitions — making the 70-page document more readable.
The Sexual Misconduct Policy is reviewed every year but not necessarily edited every year. The edits that just went into effect last month began in 2017 by a team of faculty, staff, and students lead by Director for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator Rebecca Mosely. A year into that process, the U.S. Department of Education, led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, proposed changes to Title IX regulations that would affect how colleges and universities respond to accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus.
“We originally started editing the policy in the 2017–2018 academic year,” Mosely said. “We had an idea of how we wanted to edit it, and then the stuff that was coming out from the federal government was leaked and we knew that what we were pushing forward wasn’t going to meet the requirements of the federal government or the sixth circuit ruling. So we had to go back and redo.”
Because it is unknown exactly what changes the Department of Education will end up mandating or when they will go into effect, many feel the process moving forward is uncertain.
“Unfortunately or fortunately, we have to be in compliance with federal law on things like Title IX,” said Raavi Asdar, a College second-year on the Title IX Policy Committee. “I think myself and a few others were expecting the recommendations to come down over the summer and then having to kind of kick things into gear as soon as this semester started, but they’ve yet to come down.”
Some of the edits to Oberlin’s policy were made in preparation to get the College aligned with what these governmental mandates might be. One of the new additions to Oberlin’s policy is that large edits can be made without approval if they are necessary to keep the College up to date with federal law.
“As an institution, we’re going to do what we need to do to be in compliance with the law because we have to, so we changed the language and make that clear,” Mosely said. “And if changes come out next week, I’m going to make those changes when I have to make them and then we’ll figure out with folks how we can make them in the best way.”
Other edits to Oberlin’s specific policy included adding clarification to let students with disabilities know about their right to request accommodations while going through a Title IX process, as well as adding a policy for amnesty for alcohol and drug use for both parties involved in a sexual misconduct report. Previously, amnesty was only granted for the reporting party, which some worried would created unequal treatment.
Some felt that the Department of Education’s mandates forced Oberlin into making edits that they would not have otherwise made.
“Personally, I’m not a fan of the live hearing and panel-style of investigation as mandated by the government, since it requires parties who have experienced trauma to participate heavily in the process regardless of whether they feel comfortable doing so,” wrote Bhairavi Mehra, a College third-year on the Title IX Policy Committee, in an email to the Review.
Oberlin hopes to mitigate this problem by holding these live hearings with parties in separate rooms when necessary. In addition, the committee has worked to create better resources for students that work within the Department of Education’s potential new changes.
“However, I do believe that there was a silver lining to this,” Mehra wrote. “Given that the new official process is less ideal, we’ve been working with Rebecca Mosely to develop informal restorative justice-style processes that are oriented towards addressing harm and healing, rather than being purely punitive. … I look forward to the different policies Oberlin develops to address harm and ensure the safety of its students.”