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MSU complies with federal Title IX regulations in short time frame, encourages community feedback

August 14, 2020
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019.
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Michigan State released its revised Title IX policy in compliance with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' regulation changes on Friday, according to a release from MSU officials.

"We took this as an opportunity to create a policy that strives for clarity and important supportive measures that increase equity, accountability, and transparency for all involved in the Title IX process,” Tanya Jachimiak, the MSU associate vice president of the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance, said.

In May, DeVos created new Title IX provisions for sexual misconduct cases on college campuses. The regulations went into effect Aug. 14, giving colleges and universities a short three months to comply.

In accordance with the federal regulations, MSU officials announced what the new Title IX policy will do. Changes include defining prohibited conduct, such as what relationship violence, sexual misconduct and stalking mean, under both community standards and Title IX, according to the statement.

The policy will explain the process for responding and addressing reports of misconduct, including retaliation, the statement said. The policy will also detail the availability of resources and supportive measures for those who report misconduct.

Additionally, the policy will make clear that Title IX regulations are not limited to students and will apply to reports against or brought by employees.

As for investigations into misconduct reports, the policy will provide those who report "with more autonomy as to whether to request an investigation through the formal grievance process," the statement said.

According to the statement, investigations under the new policy are set to have a fair investigation and hearing process with "realistic time frames and regular communication from investigators and decision makers."

Investigations are also set to be streamlined, including the review of all evidence related to the allegations prior to finalizing an investigation report, according to the statement.

MSU was able to comply to the new provisions in a short time frame. However, during the last three months, these federal regulations have been met with criticism both locally and nationally. At the same time, MSU continues to be heavily involved in Title IX lawsuits.

Motion to halt new Title IX regulations recently denied

A total of 18 attorneys general, including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, joined together to halt the provisions from going into effect. However, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia blocked the motion Aug. 12, according to the U.S. Department of Education, or DOE.

In June, survivors and activists joined the Democratic Women's Caucus to denounce the DOE's new regulations.

Amanda Thomashow, founder of Lansing's Survivor Strong, said with these regulations, she would have never had a Title IX claim to begin with.

In 2014, Thomashow made the first official Title IX complaint against former Olympic doctor, Michigan State physician and now-convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar.

Thomashow also said the new regulations make it harder to protect students and to hold institutions accountable financially, which she said is the only way to incentivize student safety.

Know Your IX Manager Sage Carson said that the new regulations severely reduce student's rights in sexual misconduct cases under Title IX by requiring schools to dismiss violence that occurs outside of a university program or activity.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) also listed failures within the regulations in a previous statement, including:

  • Schools will be allowed to delay investigations as the original 60-day recommendation for completing investigations will be dropped.
  • Schools will be allowed to use mediation in sexual harassment complaints, including student-on-student sexual assault but not employee-on-student. Prior to the new regulations, schools were prohibited from using mediation because "it assumes both parties share responsibility for the assault and often requires direct interaction between the assailant and survivor," Slotkin said.
  • Schools will be prohibited from providing supportive measures that are disciplinary, punitive or unreasonably burden the other party. Slotkin said this could force survivors to change their classes or dorm location.

MSU's current standing with Title IX lawsuits

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In September, MSU levied with a record $4.5 million fine for excessive violations of the Clery Act. However, the university's entanglement with Title IX continues.

Most recently, three former MSU students asked for a review of their Title IX case by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Their case was previously dismissed based on a lack of proof showing Michigan State's deliberate indifference to their reports.

The appeal argues the current definition of deliberate indifference is not applied in its original, intended way. Additionally, the appeal points to the divide this ruling causes among courts of appeals.

In terms of other recent dismissals, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Robert Jonker issued the dismissal of a federal Title IX lawsuit in June.

The case involved Sage Wood, who enrolled at MSU in 2015. She filed a lawsuit in November 2019 alleging MSU faculty dissuaded her from reporting two instances of sexual assault.

Jonker said he did not deny Wood had been assaulted. Instead, he dismissed the case on the determination that action cannot be taken against MSU without proof of extended harassment.

Additionally, a former MSU sprinter sued the university for failure to enforce sexual assault regulations.

The suit was filed as part of a set of lawsuits against the NCAA involving at least two other institutions. The lawsuit references a reported failure to uphold Title IX regulations after she was sexually assaulted in 2017.

As for MSU's new policy, the Center for Survivors, MSU employee labor unions, MSU Human Resources, the University Committee on Faculty Affairs, Associated Students of Michigan State University, the Council of Graduate Students, the Council of Racial and Ethnic Students and many other faculty, organizations, staff and students collectively aided the process, according to the statement.

Jachimiak's team will continue to meet with community members throughout the fall semester.

“Our commitment to ensuring a campus free of violence remains unwavering," Jachimiak said in the statement.

To learn more about Title IX at MSU, community members are encouraged to visit the OCR website. Those who want to provide feedback on MSU's policy can email ocr@msu.edu.

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