Linfield holds steady after DeVos alters guidelines

Olivia Gomez, Staff writer

Linfield’s Title IX committee is holding off on setting new mandates in its sexual misconduct policy after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded two guidelines for campus sexual assault investigations.

Title IX coordinator Susan Hopp said the college sexual misconduct policy will be similar to how it was under the “Dear Colleague” letter of 2011, which was written to get colleges to take sexual misconduct more seriously. It was a set of guidelines rather than law, but educational institutions followed it like legislation.

Even though DeVos has rescinded two Obama-era guidelines set by the letter and permitted a third, no legislation has been passed that requires colleges amend their sexual misconduct policies. Until those laws exist, Hopp said, not much is happening on campus.

DeVos freed colleges from following the “preponderance of the evidence” standard established in the “Dear Colleague” letter. Under that guideline, the accusing party had to prove the crime was 51 percent likely, or more likely than not, to have occurred.

The Education Secretary remarked on Sept. 22 that colleges could alternatively apply a “clear and convincing” burden of proof, a higher standard of evidence.

Hopp said that the school will change its policy from the “preponderance” standard to something else if required by law, but not other- wise.

There is usually not enough evidence in a case to stand up to a higher burden of proof, and no witnesses to testify.

DeVos also removed the requirement that investigations be conducted within 60 days.

This might allow for “timely” completion.

Linfield sexual misconduct investigations mostly get done within 60 days anyway, so this guideline isn’t applicable, Hopp said.

The announcement did include permission for schools to use mediation, which was not previously allowed.

Hopp said that although some students may prefer mediation to a formal investigation, she is “never in favor of a forced mediation.”

DeVos’ changes to campus sexu- al misconduct guidelines came after her Sept. 7 speech in which she said the accused were not being given the same rights as their accusers.

She critiqued the existing system, saying that sexual misconduct investigations should be conducted by law enforcement and not educators.

She also emphasized how vital it was that students on both sides be given due process.

Hopp agreed, saying there is still confusion among the public as to what that means.

The Title IX coordinator said the college offers “comprehensive” resources both on and off campus to both parties in an investigation.

None of those resources will be taken away as a result of the altered guidelines.

Even with all of the resources, including counseling sessions, access to medical care and on-campus deputies trained in Title IX guidelines, it can be tricky.

“There’s never a really great outcome in these cases,” Hopp said.

Her years of experience as a student judicial officer and eight years at Linfield showed her how investigations take a toll on both parties.

There are still flaws in the process, so one side may not feel justice was served.

Linfield students then have the option to appeal their cases, on the grounds that they believe either the process was not followed correctly or if new evidence was introduced.