UO reaffirms commitment to Title IX and support for students

University of Oregon leaders are reaffirming their strong commitment to preventing sexual harassment and violence and providing services to survivors as the federal government considers making changes to Title IX enforcement.

Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex- and gender-based discrimination in education, which includes sexual harassment and violence. In early September, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she will seek to change Title IX enforcement implemented by the Obama administration, saying the system has “failed too many students.” Federal officials will launch a formal notice and comment process to revise Title IX guidance.

DeVos’ announcement does not change the university’s commitment or practices, said UO President Michael Schill, and he hopes any future changes do not slow the important progress made on college campuses to address a “very serious problem.”

“The university remains strongly and unequivocally committed to providing services to survivors, encouraging those who have experienced sexual violence to seek our help and to being fair and equitable to all, including those accused,” Schill said. “While the federal Title IX system is not perfect, I do not believe it is failed. We are in a better place than we were several years ago. I hope any changes preserve the key elements of Title IX enforcement.”

Darci Heroy, the UO’s associate vice president and Title IX coordinator, said potential changes at the federal level may create some ambiguities, but they should not change day-to-day work on campus to address sexual violence. The advances made in recent years are built on many laws and policies, she said, and won’t be erased even if the some of the federal guidance on Title IX is rescinded.

Heroy and other Title IX coordinators across the country will be closely engaged in the federal rulemaking process, as well as state legislative efforts, to help ensure that any changes build on the valuable lessons institutions have learned over the last several years.

“We look forward to engaging with OCR on some changes that could be beneficial to universities’ ability to address sex- and gender-based harassment and violence,” Heroy said. “Revisiting the guidance would allow us to advocate for improvements — for example, for more flexibility in looking at restorative justice approaches — as well ensuring reporting obligations for employees are more trauma-informed and supportive of victims and survivors.”

The federal announcement is not related to, nor does it change, the UO’s new policy on reporting responsibilities for employees who learn that a student has experienced sexual assault or violence. The Title IX office notified all UO employees about their responsibilities this week. The new policy creates three categories of employees: student directed, confidential employees and mandatory employees.

Most faculty, graduate employees and staff fall into the category of “student directed.” That means that if a student discloses an incident of sexual harassment or violence, the employee must provide them with information about resources and reporting options and honor their wishes about whether to report the incident to the Title IX office, among other things.

The prior policy required all employees to report when a student disclosed prohibited discrimination.

“This is a model policy created through a remarkably collaborative process with the University Senate,” Schill said. “It demonstrates our resolve to support and provide services to students who disclose sexual harassment and violence while respecting and protecting victims and survivors as much as possible. This helps make all employees part of the solution to making this a safe, respectful campus for all.”

Full details about the policy and employee responsibilities are listed on the Title IX website.