College awaits new Title IX regulations

Biden Administration set to release new draft before end of month

The current Biden Administration is slated to release updated Title IX regulations sometime this month, which will alter Trump-era regulations implemented in August 2020 that included a limited scope and an expanded Formal Investigation process. Many are anxious for the implementation of new regulations that could significantly reshape the federal Title IX process, specifically formal investigation procedures.  

Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed during the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits sex discrimination of all kinds within education programs or any activity that receives federal funding or financial assistance. As required by law, St. Olaf adapted to the Trump Administration’s regulations at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester and is expected to readjust to the Biden Administration’s new regulations once they come into effect in order to remain legally compliant. 

The Biden Administration has announced that a draft of their regulations will be released in April of this year, followed by a 60 day period for public comment. The Department of Education is required to meaningfully respond to all substantive comments and incorporate shifts or changes that they see fit in response. After this process, the final regulations will be issued as well as a deadline for when each college or university must have them officially in place. 

Once the Trump-era regulations were finalized by the government in May 2020, the changes were legally required to go into effect by August. This means that colleges and universities were working to sift through the almost 2,000 pages of federal regulations and implement them in just three short months. 

These continuous changes not only provide logistical challenges for those working in Title IX offices, but also affect community education regarding reporting options in response to assault and harassment. 

“It’s hard to decrease barriers to reporting when there is just more and more confusion about the process,” said St. Olaf Title IX Coordinator, Kari Hohn. “That’s a challenge that we’re up against, and there is very little we can do to change, but there are certainly things we can do to try and change and help people understand what’s different, what’s new, and what is to expect.”

The earliest that the regulations will come into effect is sometime in 2023, since the initial draft will only be released this month and the feedback process described above will take several months to implement.  

“It’s just so hard to know, I don’t even want to guess because it could just be so wildly off. But it is likely that in the next calendar year we would have adjusted to new regulations,” Hohn said about the timeline. 

Title IX coordinators across the country are anticipating what the Biden administration’s regulations might entail for their communities. With changes in the formal investigation process as a part of Trump’s regulations, there has been significant criticism as to the intensity and lack of sensitivity for survivors. The expanded regulations from Trump include a live hearing and a cross-examination or questioning from both a reporting party and a responding party. 

“Everyone I’ve asked has truly no real idea of what’s coming. We’re all kind of guessing that it’s mostly gonna be changes to the hearing, or the investigation process itself,” Hohn said. “I think a lot of us are hoping that the cross-examination piece goes away, in particular.” 

Hohn continued, “I thought that our process prior to Trump regulation worked well and was equitable and fair as is. And so if we’re able to incorporate some of those aspects back in, that would be great.”

Since those new regulations have gone into effect, St. Olaf has seen a reduction in formal investigation processes. Those working in Title IX wonder about the various factors that contribute to this decrease and question how both the COVID-19 pandemic and the expanded hearing process has created possible barriers for those looking to go through with Title IX. 

“The hearing piece is significant, and it makes us wonder about the fact that we are doing such fewer investigations. That’s an interesting correlation and it will be interesting to see if that requirement gets taken away or adjusted whether requests for investigations go back up,” Hohn said. 

The Biden Administration has communicated little in regards to what these regulations might entail, but the Administration has stated that there may be a more specific and detailed recognition of transgender access to bathrooms and to participation in sports. Despite this being a possible addition to the federal Title IX regulations, St. Olaf’s own Title IX office already covers transgender students’ access to school bathrooms and participation in sports. The new federal regulations, however, may include more specific detail and direction. 

“So far, the regulations have been so focused on sexual violence and the process to deal with that, when it comes to a schools attention, so I would welcome the opportunity to talk to students in our community about other aspects of Title IX law and gender equity that haven’t been elevated as highly by our government,” Hohn said.  

More information on federal regulations can be found on the St.Olaf College website under the Title IX menu. 

Confidential on-campus resources for survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence include the Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN), Campus Ministry, and the Counseling Center.

 

peacor2@stolaf.edu

 

Disclaimer: Caroline Peacore ’24 serves on the Title IX Advisory Group and is a SARN Co-Chair

 

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