LETTER TO THE EDITOR: USC must uphold and expand its commitments to Title IX


In a Sept. 8 memo to students, Provost Michael Quick shared a memo  stating that the University will not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form and that you take seriously your responsibility to handle sexual misconduct on campus. We thank Provost Quick and senior administrators for their commitment, and we call on them to act on this promise with integrity, compassion and fairness.

On Sept. 22, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos revoked federal Title IX guidelines for schools investigating campus sexual misconduct. Now schools can choose to use a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard instead of the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, an already high standard which requires parties to provide enough evidence to show their claims are more likely than not to be true. The “clear and convincing” standard would make it even more difficult for reporting students, for whom evidence is rare beyond testimony.

Additionally, guidance on promptness has been removed, giving no deadline for an investigation to conclude and allowing delay through defense tactics. And now, schools can limit appeal rights to only those accused of a Title IX violation, instead of both the reporting and accused students having equal rights.

Over the past five years, the epidemic of sexual violence at colleges across the country has come to light due to the activism of student sexual assault survivors and allies. Students at USC organized with activists across the country to file Title IX and Clery Act complaints.  Hundreds of federal complaints were filed by students across the country, including at USC.

Federal complaints filed against USC in 2013 and 2016 remain open, and the USC administration has made welcome changes. USC has hired a Title IX Coordinator, clarified policy, created task forces with students, improved the quality of support with Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services, strengthened its web presence with resources for reporting and responding students and implemented the peer program VOICE: Violence Outreach Intervention and Community Empowerment. VOICE is exactly the type of program with the potential to create widespread cultural change on campus.

We are gladdened by these changes and ask USC not to reverse or slow its course at the cost of current students. DeVos paints an inaccurate picture of the 2011  “Dear Colleague” letter, stating that the guidelines weaponize the Office for Civil Rights and victimize survivors, accused students and school administrators alike. She has called school adjudications “kangaroo courts” that force administrators to act as judge and jury. But schools do not have the power to incarcerate, only the power to expel assailants who violate school policy. All schools have a responsibility to enforce policies that do not tolerate sexual violence. Schools must have the ability to investigate and the power to expel assailants.

DeVos claims that schools now rashly expel accused students without due process, fearing bad press. But such behavior would be noncompliant with Title IX. The law gives both parties equal opportunity to provide witnesses and evidence, which are then looked at under the preponderance of the evidence standard to determine which version of events is more likely than not to be true.

Even under the Obama-era guidelines the Title IX process weighed in favor of the accused, as sexual assault claims are difficult to prove even under a preponderance of evidence standard. DeVos should work to strengthen schools’ abilities to act fairly and respond appropriately, not strip them of their power and accountability.

Without a government willing to stand up for victims, we need our community and schools to invest even more work into the fight against sexual violence. We hear you, Provost Quick: We agree that we must to come together with a renewed commitment against sexual violence.   

Ainsley Carry, you stated in the Daily Trojan last spring that you “want to get back to the days when students were banging down my door saying, ‘Let’s do something to end sexual misconduct on our campus.’” We agree: We must all do all that we can to make the cultural change we need.

We are asking USC to uphold the current school policies, and continue your stated commitments to investigate fairly and remove students who have violated policy, follow the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, commit to prompt investigations in a 60-day timeframe, train and staff the Title IX office to accomplish these goals and provide rape kits on campus. We also demand that USC implement the work of its task forces; collaborate with students to create effective education for cultural change; increase funding for and awareness of RSVP; conduct surveys to understand the campus cultural climate and the experience of marginalized students; and act based on survey results.

We commend the progress USC has made and we urge the University to continue moving forward. Please honor its commitment to student safety and gender equity on campus.

USC students, alumni, and faculty: Visit keep9usc.tumblr.com to submit why Title IX matters to you here.

SHYANN MURPHY

Class of 2017

Alexa Schwartz

Class of 2014

MARINA SALAZAR

Senior, Urban studies and planning

Valerie Lopez

Junior, Law, history and culture

Jessica o’Connor

Junior, Law, history and culture

Leslie Berntsen

Ph.D. candidate, Department of Psychology

  • The “clear and convincing” standard would make it even more difficult for reporting students, for whom evidence is rare beyond testimony.

    I guess rape kits don’t matter after all, then? Or texts, emails and other communications before and after the fact?

    Criminal courts, of course, use beyond a reasonable doubt. And many people still get convicted of rape. (Including some who shouldn’t have been.)

    Additionally, guidance on promptness has been removed, giving no deadline for an investigation to conclude and allowing delay through defense tactics.

    Putting aside that depending on the case, delays can benefit the complainant as opposed to the respondent, the guidance doesn’t say that anything goes. It just means that the inflexible 60-day rule has been removed. The Office of Civil Rights can still hold schools accountable if, looking at the facts and circumstances of any given case, they took too long.

    And now, schools can limit appeal rights to only those accused of a Title IX violation, instead of both the reporting and accused students having equal rights.

    Yes, that’s called the right against double jeopardy. You may recognize it from the Constitution.

    She has called school adjudications “kangaroo courts” that force administrators to act as judge and jury. But schools do not have the power to incarcerate, only the power to expel assailants who violate school policy.

    You’re right, there is a difference — which is why schools still can’t use beyond a reasonable doubt as the standard, and can still use preponderance of the evidence if they so choose.

    On the other hand, expulsion is not a trivial thing. The expelled student and/or his/her family has paid/indebted themselves maybe tens of thousands of dollars…now for nothing if there’s no degree at the end. (Fun fact: Government guaranteed student loans generally can’t even be discharged in bankruptcy.)

    And if the expulsion is for something like sexual assault…good luck ever getting into school anywhere else. Or getting a job higher up the food chain than, say, telemarketer or burger flipper.

    All schools have a responsibility to enforce policies that do not tolerate sexual violence. Schools must have the ability to investigate and the power to expel assailants.

    Which they still do.

    Thing is, responsibility goes two ways. If you have power, you also have a responsibility to keep checks and balances on that power. Due process is one kind of check and balance.

    DeVos claims that schools now rashly expel accused students without due process, fearing bad press. But such behavior would be noncompliant with Title IX.

    So in other words, boosting due process protections is right in the spirit of Title IX right?

    The law gives both parties equal opportunity to provide witnesses and evidence, which are then looked at under the preponderance of the evidence standard to determine which version of events is more likely than not to be true.

    Preponderance of the evidence may or may not be enough to protect a respondent’s rights. Especially when those rights don’t include things like cross-examination — as you rightly pointed out, testimony is one of the most important kinds of evidence here, and therefore testing credibility is all-important.