IMPACT Chicago is a nonprofit organization committed to ending violence and building a non-violent world in which all people can live safely and with dignity. Thousands of women and girls have taken self-defense with IMPACT Chicago. Within the past 30 years, we have offered programs at one time or another on almost every university campus in Chicago and in many high schools and elementary schools (e.g. Chicago Waldorf School College of DuPage, Columbia College, DePaul University, Dominican University, Evanston Township High School, Francis Parker, Illinois Institute of Technology, Infinity Math, Science, and Technology High School, JCFS Therapeutic Day School, Latin School, University, Moraine Valley Community College, Northwestern University, Northeastern Illinois University, North Park Elementary School, North Park University, Northside College Prep, Roosevelt University, School of the Art Institute, St. Ignatius College Prep, University of Chicago). Of the participants in our programs 16 and older, 46% have experienced unwanted sexual contact and 25% have experienced unwanted sexual intercourse, with 10% identifying their experience as rape.
Based on our experience with college, high school, and middle school students, we conclude that proposed changes in Title IX guidelines will harm students. We have comments on three proposed changes.
1. Definition of harassment: “Unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity” or “Sexual assault, as defined in 34 CFR 668.46.”
To focus only on harassment and abuse that is “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” is harmful. “Nip it in the bud” is an old saying but one that is evidence-based. Research on effective management in schools indicates that interrupting disruptive behaviors at lower levels is more effective than trying to extinguish those behaviors once they have escalated (J.S. Kounin Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms, 1970; J. E. Brophy and C. M. Evertson Learning from Teaching 1976; C. M. Evertson and C.S. Weinstein Handbook of Classroom Management: Research, Practice, and Contemporary Issues 2013). Addressing inappropriate behavior in its earliest stages is effective in redirecting behavior that if left unattended could escalate into “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” behaviors with far-reaching negative consequences for targets, perpetrators, witnesses, and the school environment.
2. Scope of an investigation: “In addition, the proposed regulations only require investigations in the event of sexual harassment within a recipient’s education program or activity.”
The proposal to permit schools to limit investigations to that which occurs within education programs or activities distorts the reality of students’ lives and educational systems. Relationships among students and between students, faculty, and administrators go beyond educational programs and activities. A student who harasses another in a grocery store, in a student’s off-campus home, or other places is using a relationship developed within a school program, activity, or environment as the basis for the harassment. The fear, anxiety, and abuse that can result from sexual harassment outside of educational programs and activities affect students’ participation within educational programs and activities.
3. Hearing process for higher education: “For institutions of higher education, the recipient’s grievance procedure must provide for a live hearing. At the hearing, the decision-maker must permit each party to ask the other party and any witnesses all relevant questions and follow-up questions, including those challenging credibility. Such cross-examination at a hearing must be conducted by the party’s advisor of choice…”.
The proposed changes presume false reporting is a major problem when research has consistently demonstrated that it is between 2-10 percent (D.Lisak, L. Gardinier, S.C. Nicksa, & A. M. Cote. 2010. “False allegations of sexual assault: An analysis of ten years of reported cases.” Violence Against Women: 16). Cross-examination by representatives of that institution will have a chilling effect on students, decrease reporting, and have negative effects on those who have been targeted.
IMPACT Chicago challenges the proposed changes:
· The definition of harassment and abuse narrowly focuses on the most egregious cases.
· A narrow focus on harassment within educational programs and activities ignores how relationships developed in educational settings extend beyond educational systems.
· A presumption that false allegations are rampart instead of building a policy on existing research and prioritizing the well-being of students who have experienced harassment or abuse.
IMPACT Chicago Comment (approved by the IMPACT Chicago Board of Directors) on 66 FR6760 “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance," submitted to Register.Gov on Sunday January 27, 2019. The official comment period has been extended to January 30. For background information and resources, check out "Add Your Voice: Proposed Title IX Changes and Sexual Harassment."