Three listening sessions to gather student feedback on the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX regulations are scheduled for next week, the university announced in a campuswide email Wednesday morning.
The university is reviewing the regulations, announced Nov. 16, and will eventually offer a formal response independently or jointly with peer universities, according to the email, signed by Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia. First, however, the university will host open community meetings intended to collect student feedback on changes, a move unprecedented in recent years.
“We face many complex issues as a nation, and sexual harassment and assault continue to demand our attention and action,” DeGioia wrote. “As an academic community, we have a responsibility to engage this issue thoughtfully and to pursue positive solutions.”
The proposed Title IX regulations reduce the number of instances of sexual harassment that universities must investigate, including eliminating off-campus incidents for consideration, and provide more rights to the accused, such as allowing lawyers for the accused to cross-examine the accuser.
The Department of Education’s federally mandated comment period on the proposed regulations opened Thursday, Nov. 29, and will be open until Jan. 28. Any individual or group can submit public comments online or by mail for review by the Department of Education.
The listening sessions will be hosted by Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny (LAW ’87) and Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson; they will be held in the Leavey Center and the Healey Family Student Center. Those unable to attend the sessions on Dec. 3, Dec. 6 or Dec. 10 have the option to digitally submit feedback via the RSVP form.
The university will consider the comments as it determines which rules to address and how it will do so. The email did not outline the university’s timeline for its formal response.
Students Taking Action Against Interpersonal Violence encouraged community members to attend the listening sessions, although the group said the action falls short of community needs.
“STAIV appreciates President DeGioia’s message to the student body regarding the proposed Title IX regulations and sexual assault at Georgetown,” STAIV wrote in a statement. “However, the university is still neglecting to establish a firm position against these proposed rules that would harm survivors and students in general.”
STAIV, an unrecognized student group working to counter sexual misconduct at Georgetown, noted that although the RSVP form allows students to provide comment, it is not anonymous and does not include clear information about the proposed changes.
“The proposed regulations are intended to promote the purpose of Title IX by requiring recipients to address sexual harassment, assisting and protecting victims of sexual harassment and ensuring that due process protections are in place for individuals accused of sexual harassment,” according to the Department of Education.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has long promised updated Title IX regulations and in 2017 withdrew two Obama-era guiding documents, including the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” that required universities to use the lowest-possible legal standard of proof in an attempt to protect the accuser.
After the release of the proposed regulations, nearly 300 students signed a letter requesting that Georgetown University submit a comment opposing the regulations and urging transparency in the institutional response. Students delivered the letter, organized by STAIV, to the Office of the President on Nov. 16.
Kilkenny affirmed the university’s commitment to preventing sexual misconduct and supporting survivors, at the time of the letter’s delivery.
“We will continue to focus on education and prevention, support for survivors, and prompt and equitable processes to respond to reports and complaints of sexual misconduct,” Kilkenny said in an article published by The Hoya on Nov. 20. “Our current policies and processes continue to remain in place. We will carefully review the Department of Education’s proposed Title IX regulations.”
STAIV acknowledged that the listening sessions are a clear effort to respond to STAIV’s prior efforts to increase student input in university Title IX policy.
“We recognize that the University is responding to our demands to facilitate student input and request administrators attend the town hall we are hosting in January when finals are over and students have more capacity to respond to these new proposed regulations,” the group wrote.
The email comes amid the university’s search for a new Title IX coordinator after Laura Cutway’s departure in June. The university has completed its first round of interviews for the position as of Nov. 15. In the meantime, Title IX Investigator Samantha Berner has served as interim Title IX coordinator, a move criticized by some student groups.
Listening sessions will also be held for the Georgetown University Law Center and Georgetown University Medical Center.
DeGioia’s email emphasized the work of the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Advisory Committee regarding sexual misconduct prevention and education, including the launch of a second campus climate survey, set to open in the spring semester.
“Georgetown University remains deeply committed to eradicating all forms of sexual assault and misconduct on campus and to providing an environment in which all members of our community can pursue their very best work,” DeGioia wrote. “We look forward to engaging with you on these important steps ahead.”