In response to the United States Department of Education’s recent changes to Title IX regulations, University President Anthony Monaco and other administrators affirmed Tufts’ commitment to combating sexual misconduct and gathered members of the Sexual Misconduct Steering Committee to determine future action.
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released final Title IX regulations on May 6, some of which include defining sexual harassment as unlawful sex discrimination and allowing for those accused of harassment or assault to question evidence and accusers, according to an article by ed.gov. Universities that, like Tufts, receive federal funding must comply with the new rules by Aug. 14.
Monaco expressed concern over the new changes in an email to the Tufts community on May 7.
“After an initial review, we are deeply disappointed and concerned; the regulations create new definitions, processes, and procedures that could reverse years of progress in addressing and preventing sexual misconduct on college campuses,” Monaco wrote.
An undergraduate student who chose to remain anonymous but owns several social media accounts named Tier Town Survivor spoke about the new regulations.
They called on the university and community members to recognize that sexual violence is not only carried out by men against women.
“Anyone of any gender can perpetrate and anyone of any gender can be a survivor,” they said.
The Title IX changes come after Monaco and others in higher education responded last year to the Department of Education’s originally proposed regulations. In 2019, Monaco affirmed the university’s commitment to preventing and eliminating sexual harassment at Tufts in an email.
“We are deeply committed to continuing our efforts to eradicate sexual misconduct from our community and strongly urge the Department to reject any changes that would be counterproductive to that goal,” he wrote.
Monaco’s most recent May email echoes these same objectives.
He acknowledged that the release of the new regulations presents a greater challenge to institutions and their respective community members, who are also working to combat the effects of COVID-19.
“The timing of these proposed changes, coming in the midst of a pandemic that is challenging and changing colleges and universities in unprecedented ways, places an additional stress not only on institutions but most importantly on our students, faculty and staff,” Monaco said.
Members of the Sexual Misconduct Steering Committee, which is made up of faculty, staff, students and Monaco, will gather to discuss how the university can best respond to the regulations, according to the email.
Under the new regulations, colleges are not required to deal with complaints of sexual harassment that occur outside the United States.
“The section of the rule that permits schools to ignore sexual violence that occurs outside of school would allow countless assaults to go unchecked,” the anonymous student said.
They also advocated for the protection of survivors who are marginalized, including LGBTQ survivors, survivors with disabilities, male survivors and survivors of color.
Jill Zellmer, executive director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and Title IX coordinator for the university, explained some of the steps Tufts has taken in response to the Title IX changes.
“The President’s Sexual Misconduct Prevention Steering Committee is creating two subgroups to work on the two biggest issues we need to address in the next 100 days before OCR requires implementation,” she wrote in an email to the Daily.
According to Zellmer, the two of the greatest issues are modifying the university’s current Sexual Misconduct Adjudication Process and bolstering the informal process options, while providing a high level of resources and support for all those involved in these processes, as the new regulations largely will only allow action on the basis of formal complaints.
She added that members of the Steering Committee — both students and employees — will have the option of joining one of these subgroups, which will meet to share ideas about how best to modify Tufts’ formal and informal processes.
Zellmer noted that Tufts’ legal department and the OEO have been speaking to law firms and other peer institutions to ensure that the university implements the best practices and complies with the regulations.
She explained that students play an important role in the university’s response and action plan.
“Students play a key role in these discussions,” Zellmer said. “We are ready for these challenges and … to build the best process we possibly can within the confines of the new regulations.”