by Raneen El-Barbarawi / Staff Reporter
Since its establishment in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, Title IX has prohibited discrimination in different colleges and universities on the basis of sex. Title IX is respected for its constant role on supporting and securing victims of sexual assault/harassment/exploitation, domestic violence, stalking and/or dating violence.
Roosevelt University is extremely inclusive when it comes to allowing students to report sexual misconduct and abuse, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, or whether it occurred on or off campus. Some of Roosevelt’s Title IX duties include allowing a victim of sexual misconduct a confidential and safe space for reporting and assisting, sharing and explaining to survivors what resources and rights they have.
On Sept. 20, Charity Seaborn was appointed as the new Title IX interim coordinator because of her previous work serving as a student conduct specialist, and her certification in Title IX by the Association of Title IX administration.
Seaborn, 33, explained that she does training for ongoing employees and students, as well as addressing Title IX reports. “It’s exciting for me as a professional because this is challenging work and I think working in student affairs is really valuable,” said Seaborn, who is also the director of student rights and responsibilities. “But at the same time, it’s not exciting that student’s go through these experiences.”
She explained that her main focus is educating students on how to be safe and how to recognize what is and isn’t appropriate. She’s also currently in the process of putting on a program on how to safely date online.
“I’ve heard about situations of students inviting people they’ve met online in their dorms and I feel like the culture normalizes this,” said Seaborn, who has been the Title IX interim director for three weeks now, and has had three reports so far. However, she also explains that “we have a lot of work to do.”
She went on to explain how she wants to help students feel safe when they decide to report situations to her office. “I know a lot of students shy away from discussing conflict because of fear of losing their friend or relationship or impacting their social circle, but if we don’t address this behavior, that behavior can not only happen to that one student, but it can also happen to others,” said Seaborn. “We aren’t here to remove all students who make mistakes, but we want to stop behavior that could potentially be harmful to the rest of the student body.”
Moreover, at Roosevelt, there are two spheres of Title IX: one addresses students specifically, and the other deals with students who have issues related to faculty.
Jamar Orr, 34, assistant provost for student affairs and dean of students at Roosevelt University, oversees, reviews and hears all students-only Title IX issues/ complaints/ appeals.
However, near the end of October 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a number of Title IX changes that could impact Title IX at Roosevelt and other colleges and universities in the country. According to the memo, the new proposal—which has not been finalized yet—argues for a definition of gender based on “a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable,” and asks for a birth certificate or genetic testing to identify the sex of an individual. This does not consider those who identify as transgender.
The new Title IX guidelines will also allow the responding party to have a right to question the reporting party, which ultimately roll backs the Obama-era guidelines of Title IX (in some aspects) and disregards Roosevelt’s process of not allowing the victim to be questioned by the person who was alleged to do the sexually violent act.
Universities will also not be required to act upon off-campus incidents with privately owned homes. This dichotomy includes Obama’s administration being built on a standard of ‘prevalence of evidence’ while Trump’s administration emphasizes ‘convincing evidence’.
Also, a live panel hearing would be put into place. In a live hearing panel, the reporting and responding panel will speak before a group of individuals, and they will then be asked questions, and those groups of people will jointly make a decision as to whether or not a Title IX violation has occurred. This would eliminate Roosevelt’s single investigator model that allows one person to review the entire investigation from start to finish and then make the final decision.
“A lot that happens in Title IX is very sensitive information and it can be difficult in a live hearing with multiple people asking you questions to relive the trauma of what may have occurred,” said Orr. “I believe it’s more intimate in a single investigator model with that one on one dialogue versus that group discussion that can be scary for students because those students are dealing with emotional implications from that.”
He also explained how Roosevelt would have no choice but to modify the policy based on new guidelines and directives issued by Betsy DeVos, head of the Department of Health and Human Services—appointed by the Trump administration in 2017.
He further spoke about his thoughts of the Trump administration issuing these changes, and how it would impact Roosevelt. “From an equity standpoint to make sure that both parties are treated fairly, I think it’s a good thing that both parties have access to what’s happening before a charge is made,” said Orr, a non-practicing lawyer who uses his knowledge of law to further the work he does on campus.
He added that he thinks it is detrimental to have the reporting party questioned by the responding party. “In some ways, this can re-victimize those individuals who have to be confronted by those who may have engaged in acts of sexual violence against them,” said Orr.
“Looking at Roosevelt, it’s a really diverse community. I feel like federal changes would pinpoint a certain minority group and I feel like that diversity will have a rougher time with inclusion,” said Sarah Alhayek, 24, a second year graduate student double majoring in industrial organizational psychology and business administration.
Alhayek currently works for the student conduct board alongside Seaborn. “I can see where they’re trying to go with it, but I think the supervision the government is trying to put in place within universities is definitely going to make certain individuals feel that they’re being pointed out more than other individuals,” said Alhayek.
Seaborn is also a part-time student at the John Marshall Law school. She agreed with Orr on the equity that it allows for both the responding and reporting party. “You don’t want students to feel like, ‘oh someone reported on me and I’m automatically found responsible,’ so I think it’s good to have that fair process where both parties can be heard fairly,” Seaborn said. “I think it’s a larger standard than what we use, and if they implement these things it would impact how we hold students responsible.”