New Title IX policy narrows definition for sexual assualt and misconduct

The university’s interim policy will address misconduct that Title IX will not


Emma Coleman

The virtual panel was held by SPEAK on Aug. 25.

Grace Mamon

A new interim Title IX policy on campus meets all nationally required changes that went into effect in August, while still keeping consistent with the school’s former policy.

Title IX, a federal statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, recently modified regulations to narrow the definition of what constitutes sexual assault and misconduct.

Lourdes Arana, ‘21, president of SPEAK, said she is concerned that the new policy will decrease already low reporting numbers at Washington and Lee. 

“There are a lot of instances of misconduct and sexual assault that just go unreported,” she said in an interview. 

Arana helped organize a virtual panel, hosted by SPEAK, to inform students of the new regulations. Lauren Kozak, university Title IX coordinator, Dr. Janet Boller, clinical psychologist and employee of the counselling center and Jan Kaufman, director of health and promotion, spoke to about 30 participants during the panel on Aug. 25. 

The cross examination process during a hearing under the new federal regulations is one of the most concerning factors that might lower reporting numbers, panelists said. 

Kozak said a witness or party must now submit to live cross examination – if they don’t, the hearing panel cannot consider any statements they have made. In the past, witnesses and parties have answered written questions instead. 

Cross examination is part of the investigation process, which begins after a formal complaint is made to determine if a policy was violated. 

“I worry that cross examination will further traumatize victims,” Arana said. “There’s just so many things that can further put the victim on the spot.”

Kozak, Boller and Kaufman shared her concern. 

Beginning the investigation process “is already a hard decision to make for a lot of people,” Boller said, and this will make it “more difficult.”

Other aspects of the new regulations also troubled Arana. 

For Title IX to apply under the new regulations, the misconduct must occur within the United States during a university program or activity and meet the federal harassment definition.

It will also no longer address misconduct that occurs off-campus. 

But the university policy is broader, said Kozak. If misconduct is dismissed federally because it does not fit Title IX regulations, it can still be addressed by the school.

“We are still going to address all off-campus conduct,” Kozak said. “It’s just that the federal law won’t apply.”

The university policy will also address misconduct that occurs in locations abroad and in the Lexington, Rockbridge and Buena Vista areas.

Arana said she is glad the university will address off-campus conduct.

“Because our social scene is so off-campus, it’s necessary for us to have jurisdiction over that,” Arana said.

The panelists said they will work with the community this year to decide what changes, if any, should be made to the university’s interim policy to effectively dovetail with Title IX regulations.

“This will be an important year,” Kaufman said, “to gather feedback from the community…what is the best that we can do under the restrictions of Title IX?”

Much will stay consistent with the university’s prior procedure. The school will continue to address nonconsensual sexual penetration and contact, stalking, dating and domestic violence, sexual exploitation and sexual harassment. The steps taken when a report comes in will also remain the same, said Kozak.

First, there will be a meeting with the complainant, if he or she is known, to talk about resources and resolutions. Supportive measures are available if a complainant doesn’t want to pursue an investigation or disciplinary action, Kozak said. The measures can include a no-contact directive, changes in class or work schedule or academic adjustments like extensions.

The formal complaint process, on the other hand, begins an investigation into whether a policy was violated.

“I don’t want the important point to get lost in the weeds,” Kozak said. “Students don’t need to determine whether something is or is not Title IX. If misconduct occurs, students can report it. Period.”

Arana said SPEAK plans to continue to advocate for a healthy sexual culture on campus, provide resources to survivors and partner with Project Horizon in Lexington, which works to reduce domestic and dating violence in the area.

The Title IX office is also committed to positive change, Kozak said.

“Regardless of where it occurs, regardless of what happened, it can be brought in.”