Georgetown University students drafted a petition urging the university to prioritize the interests of survivors while implementing new Title IX rules set to go into effect Aug. 14.
The petition, which is scheduled to be sent to University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) on July 22, had garnered over 350 signatures by the time it was sent. The petition comes in response to a sweeping overhaul of Title IX rules introduced by the U.S. Department of Education on May 6. Many Georgetown students and administrators fear the changes will make it more difficult to report sexual misconduct and place undue burden on survivors during sexual misconduct investigations.
“We, as students and community members, are calling on Georgetown University to uphold the civil rights of all students on campus,” the petition reads. “Multiple sections within the rule give schools discretion to choose how policies are implemented. We urge Georgetown to commit to taking sexual violence seriously by choosing the options that would create the least harm for student survivors.”
The petition demands that the university pursue 10 different Title IX policy proposals once DOE’s new rules go into place. The petition’s drafters want the university to commit to all 10 demands in a universitywide email by Aug. 1.
Co-authored by Kayla Friedland (SFS ’22), Katarina Watson (COL ’21) and Sarah Nesbitt (LAW ’21), the petition serves to hold Georgetown accountable for its promises to protect and advocate for survivors, according to Nesbitt.
“Georgetown has made several statements about its commitment to combating gender violence and mitigating the harm of the rule on survivors, and that’s important, but a commitment means very little without an effective accountability mechanism,” Nesbitt wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We decided we needed to articulate the needs and demands of students clearly in writing so that Georgetown has no excuse to come up short.”
Signed into law in 1972, Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in academic institutions or programs receiving federal funding and outlines procedures to investigate sexual misconduct on campus.
After the new Title IX regulations were first proposed by DOE in 2018, Georgetown hosted several feedback sessions and town halls before submitting an 11-page letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in January 2019. The letter expressed the university’s concerns that the proposed changes would not foster a fair and just process for students filing Title IX complaints.
The new Title IX rules implement stricter evidentiary standards, limit the scope of sexual misconduct universities are required to investigate and tighten the definitions of sexual assault. The Trump administration’s new protocols also require live hearings and mandate cross-examination during investigations.
In an attempt to minimize the impact of the reforms, the petition demands the university continue using the preponderance of evidence standard — a standard often used in civil cases and a lighter burden of proof than beyond reasonable doubt — when charging sexual assault perpetrators instead of adopting stricter evidentiary standards.
The petition also demands the university formally pledge not to use its religious exemption from some Title IX rules and urges the university to continue investigating sexual assault incidents in study abroad programs and other off-campus settings through separate investigative procedures.
“Georgetown has repeatedly stated that it has never taken the religious exemption to Title IX in the past, and that’s great, but — as the petition says — that does little to ensure an equitable future,” Nesbitt wrote. “Under the new Rule, schools can wait until after they face a charge of sex discrimination to claim a religious exemption to Title IX. It’s an absurd escape valve that makes Title IX essentially toothless for schools that can claim religious objections.”
The university plans to maintain its current Title IX processes as much as possible while still meeting the legal requirements of the new regulations, university officials shared in a July 6 webinar.
The petition is a way to ensure Georgetown will remain committed to this plan to not only go above and beyond the new regulations, but also to communicate all of the changes being made with the whole community, according to Watson.
“I think they’re definitely reacting in the right way, and they had a webinar and are having office hours, which I think is really important so that students can get information through multiple avenues,” Watson said in an interview with The Hoya. “I’d say that this is just an addition to that because I think that the general student body and the Georgetown community doesn’t know exactly what’s going on.”
The letter called on administrators to follow the principles of a now-rescinded 2016 federal guidance that implemented a slate of policies designed to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination. The guidance mandated that university officials refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns and allow transgender students to access sex-segregated facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.
GU Pride Co-President Matthew Failor (SFS ’23) believes the petition will help pressure the university to more proactively support LGBTQ survivors.
“To fully protect our campus community, Georgetown must go further and commit to every policy outlined in the petition itself,” Failor wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Being better than Betsy DeVos is the absolute bare minimum and Georgetown must do a lot more work before they can say they truly support survivors, including and especially those from the LGBTQ+ community.”
The petition also pressures the university to improve its support of students of color. The petition demands that the university hire more Black and Black queer counselors in Counseling and Psychiatric Service, one of the central requests made by the Black Survivors Coalition during its protests for greater support and recognition of Black women and nonbinary survivors of sexual assault.
However, despite the response to the new regulations thus far, the university is still falling short of supporting students and should accept the petition’s demands, according to H*yas for Choice Vice President Rachel Harris (COL ’21).
“It is not a surprise to me that the labor of ensuring these protections has fallen onto students; almost every civil rights oriented action taken by the administration has been initiated, drafted, and fought for by students– this Title IX petition being no exception,” Harris wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Georgetown needs to start listening to its students, and by implementing the demands stated in this petition, the institution can begin to embody a more comprehensive ‘cura personalis,’ with supported actions.”
Ultimately, the petition is a way for community members to have a say in the process of implementing the new regulations and holding the university accountable, according to Nesbitt.
“We also know that schools are powerful institutions, and students, alumni, faculty, and staff are their constituents, but many of the decisions of this magnitude are made without much constituent input,” Nesbitt wrote. “This petition is about all of us engaging in the school’s political process to ensure the wellbeing of our community moving forward.”