Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. / Courtesy of U.S. Department of Education

The University has created a task force to implement the revised Title IX regulations that were announced on May 6 by the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, changes which include a narrower version of sexual harassment and mandatory cross-examination of parties.

The task force is made up of Deputy Title IX Directors from each school and members from the Office of the President and Provost, University Senate, Faculty Council and other bodies, according to Emory’s Title IX Coordinator Yolanda Buckner. 

The Department’s revisions were announced in November 2018 and experienced broad opposition from schools nationwide, including Emory.

Buckner said there were fundamental differences in Emory’s definition of sexual harassment and the Department of Education’s newly revised definition.

“Our policy looks at conduct that is unwelcome, that is of a sexual nature that is either severe or pervasive,” Buckner said. “However, the final regulation redefines sexual harassment as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.”

Buckner stated that the University’s task force will compare differences between Emory’s policies and the newly revised guidelines and make revisions to Emory’s policies accordingly.

“What we will do as a task force is to determine where we are in terms of sexual misconduct policy and practices. And then we are unpacking the final regulations to determine where those variances are,” Buckner said. “Then we will make proposed revisions to our policies, processes and practices, and then present those proposed to revisions to the president and the provost.”

Buckner said the Department’s proposed guidelines, which underwent a period of public scrutiny between November 2018 and January 2019, were very similar to the final guidelines, but some positive changes came out during this period. 

The new guidelines state that sexual misconduct that occurs off campus, meaning outside of an Emory sponsored program off campus, or outside of the U.S., cannot be adjudicated under Title IX. 

Under the new guidelines, any sexual misconduct reported during a study abroad program would not be under the purview of Title IX.

Another major change,  mandatory cross-examination of both parties by advisers, was a change that when originally proposed, mandated in-person questioning. Buckner said the change signified “one positive aspect” between the proposed guidelines and the final guidelines. The rules allow cross-examination and live hearings of parties to also take place in separate rooms if they are in person.

The changes apply to all students, faculty and staff, groups that do not experience the same adjudication process under the University’s current system. 

Buckner emphasized that Emory Title IX will both follow the mandate and continue to follow its own mission of staying committed to maintaining the health, safety and wellbeing of community members.

“We will not make these adjustments in a vacuum,” Buckner said.

Emory Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) executive board member Shreya Chodisetty (21C) criticized the new guidelines.

“Overall, it seems to silence survivors more than protect them,” Chodisetty said. “It focuses on those who are accused and seems to help them out more than survivors, which I think is completely ridiculous.”

SAPA is currently working on student support under these new guidelines and plans to collaborate with Emory’s Office of Title IX in the near future. 

According to the Department of Education, the new guidelines must be implemented by Aug. 14. Buckner and many Title IX coordinators across the country feel the deadline is too soon, especially considering the difficult financial and coordination circumstances that universities face amid a pandemic. 

According to the Department, however, the comment process and time to announce the final revisions was long enough to allow the University to meet the deadline, Buckner said.