By MARTY LEVINE
Title IX’s protections for those suffering sexual harassment or discrimination were effectively reduced under former President Donald Trump, said Zachary Davis, gender discrimination and Title IX response manager in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, at the most recent Staff Council Spotlight presentation. But the law is set to move back to its former shape this spring, with added protections, under President Joe Biden’s proposed rules, he said.
UPCOMING STAFF SPOTLIGHTS
Noon, Feb. 8: “Staff Recruitment Tips and Strategies: How the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences Hiring Committee Initiatives Improved Staff Hiring” with Stacey Willard and Maureen Lazar. Register here.
1:30 p.m. March 6: Parking with Kevin Sheehy, assistant vice chancellor for auxiliary operations and finance. Register here.
Title IX was instituted a little more than 50 years ago and had its initial impact by bringing women’s college sports closer to equal footing compared to men’s sports. More recently, it has become more prominent as a mechanism to protect against sexual harassment and discrimination at universities.
New federal Department of Education regulations, to debut in several months, could change the way Pitt adjudicates accusations of discrimination or harassment, Davis said. These new rules may cover accusations of sex stereotyping and of discrimination or harassment based on pregnancy or pregnancy planning status, he said. They also may more broadly cover sexual identity and presentation than currently, he added. And they may cover incidents involving University personnel on and off campuses, and institute new regulations on trans students’ participation in college athletics.
Currently, universities are required to adjudicate cases where harassment or discrimination is “severe AND pervasive,” whereas the new rules will likely revert to their previous scope by allowing cases where the harassment or discrimination is “severe OR pervasive,” Davis said. While universities have been allowed certain discretion, such as Pitt’s decision to cover some off-campus incidents, “the new proposed policies are going to bring us back in time” to previous broader coverages overall, he said.
During the Trump administration, which had required accusers to face cross-examination by the accused or their legal representatives, cases reaching the adjudication stage were down in numbers, Davis said: “That in itself has prevented victims and survivors from coming forward.”
Davis reviewed current Title IX reporting procedures, explaining that Pitt has its own policies governing conduct of members of the University community. He emphasized that while most University affiliates are mandatory reporters when witnessing or hearing about incidents of sexual harassment or discrimination — apart from physicians, counselors and clergy — under Pitt’s own rules there are situations in which such reporting need not happen.
“If someone were to come to you thinking that you could help them … with a sexual harassment incident,” for instance, you are required to report it to the Title IX office or other Pitt authorities.
However, even if someone with power over another at the University — say, a faculty member speaking with a student — witnesses the student openly discussing such an incident, but the student does not say they are struggling or upset about it and they are not asking for help, then “we want to recognize freedom of speech” on the student’s part and not report such incidents, Davis said. Should a student choose to write about a past incident in a paper, for instance, “that in itself is not” a time that the student is asking for help and thus need not be reported.
He explained that:
Reporting an incident may be anonymous (although that may also limit what the University can do in response, barring other available evidence).
Reports can still be made about University incidents by those who have left the University.
Those to whom such incidents happen may choose to be involved, or not involved, in the process.
Those experiencing sexual harassment or discrimination may get help from the Title IX office without opening a case against the accused, such as referrals to counseling and other care and workplace and academic accommodations.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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