Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier Staff Writer
In response to statements made by U.S. Department of Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, on Thursday stating that national Title IX guidelines have failed and will be reformed, Berry College will maintain its campus sexual misconduct policy.
In order to better prevent false accusations, DeVos proposed to incorporating a “notice and comment” period into Title IX investigations of sexual misconduct. The process allows for insights from all parties, including reporters, respondents, staff, professionals and the public in general. Devos did not state the specifics of these Title IX changes, nor when they are to be implemented. Due to this ambiguity, Berry will not take action.
“Our intent is not to do anything different in the short run,” dean of students and Title IX coordinator Debbie Heida said. “There’s not been a proposal yet for us to react to. So at this point, we [will] keep on doing what we have been doing.”
According to Heida, the current Title IX system has not failed. However, there are sensitive aspects involved in the sexual misconduct policy.
“One of the things that is difficult to manage in any Title IX case [is] how to balance both the reporter and the respondent,” Heida said. “Both are our students, and both have rights and responsibilities on the college campus.”
Through this difficulty, Berry’s goal is to maintain a safe and comfortable space for victims. For example, Berry’s sexual misconduct policy does not require students to report to the police, while many Georgia assemblies are pushing for this requirement. According to Heida, though students are encouraged to report to police, it is their personal choice to make.
“What you don’t want is anything that creates a chilly climate for people to report,” Heida said.
Even before Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter in 2013, which established investigation standards, Berry set their policy, having used these standards prior to changes. The standards required college to use preponderance of evidence in sexual misconduct cases. Preponderance of evidence, the lowest possible standard of proof, refers to the idea that the report evidence presented is more likely true than not. According to Heida, this standard has always been in Berry’s policy.
“No matter what happens in the process, it is a really difficult decision to report and go through a process,” Heida said.