Georgetown University administration reaffirmed the university’s commitment to combating incidences of sexual assault and misconduct following the Department of Education’s decision to rescind Obama-era sexual assault investigation policies in a statement Sept. 22.
The department rescinded the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter on Sexual Violence and the 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX Sexual Violence. The policies advised schools to use a “more-likely-than-not” standard for adjudicating accusations of sexual assault or misconduct, and laid out appeals process standards for handling cases.
Georgetown’s sexual assault and misconduct policies will remain unchanged while the university awaits the Department of Education’s formal regulations, according to the statement.
“We will continue to focus on education and prevention, support for survivors, and prompt and equitable processes to respond to complaints of sexual misconduct,” the statement reads.
The department argued the “Dear Colleague” letter infringed on the rights of accused students by violating due process, according to the Department of Education’s interim guidance released last Friday while it creates new permanent protocols, which are not expected for several months.
“The 2011 and 2014 guidance documents may have been well-intentioned, but those documents have led to the deprivation of rights for many students — both accused students denied fair process and victims denied an adequate resolution of their complaints,” the letter said.
“This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a Sept. 22 press release. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
Laura Cutway, Georgetown’s Title IX Coordinator, said the Department of Education’s changes have not affected the office’s procedures for handling sexual misconduct.
“Our current processes, procedures, and resources related to campus sexual violence, including the Sexual Misconduct Task Force recommendations, have not changed,” Cutway wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Cutway also said the changes have not affected the recommendations recently released by the Sexual Misconduct Task Force. Several of the recommendations made by the Sexual Misconduct Task Force are already being enacted, according to Cutway.
Mandatory “Bringing in the Bystander” training for first-years is underway. The Coordinated Community Response Team established to monitor sexual misconduct issues in place of the Task Force had its first meeting Thursday. The university is searching for a new Sexual Assault Specialist to add to the Health Education Services team.
Additionally, the Title IX office itself has created awareness campaigns and now holds office hours to inform students about the Title IX reporting process and how to access resources.
“With these types of efforts, we hope to educate community members on the types of support and resources available through the Office of Title IX Compliance,” Cutway said.
Health Education Services, which provides resources and confidential counseling services for students who have experienced sexual assault, relationship violence or stalking, also remains committed to aiding students, according to Associate Director Jen Luettel Schweer.
“[The policy change] has created much confusion and many questions about the commitment of the federal government to these issues,” Schweer wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We should all also continue to support the good work that Georgetown has already done for survivors around resources, reporting, trauma-informed systems, and education and training for our community.”
DeVos said the department does not yet have a solution to the issue of campus sexual assault, but it will be working to create a new set of guidelines.
“In the coming months, hearing from survivors, campus administrators, parents, students and experts on sexual misconduct will be vital as we work to create a thoughtful rule that will benefit students for years to come,” DeVos said in a press release last Friday. “We also will continue to work with schools and community leaders to better address preventing sexual misconduct through education and early intervention.”
Daria Crawford (COL ’20), Morgan Robinson (NHS ’20) and Kory Stuer (COL ’19), leaders in the Sexual Assault Peer Educator program, wrote that the policy change is “a sign that our government is not serious” about confronting sexual violence.
“These impending changes in policy signal to survivors and activists, who have worked for years to improve the protections offered by Title IX, that their trauma and commitment to ending sexual violence does not matter to this administration,” they wrote in a Sept. 13th op-ed for The Hoya.