Religious liberty overrides Title IX rights

By Kit Geary

Politics Editor

When I first read the new changes to Title IX, “Federal law provides that Title IX “shall not apply” to educational institutions that are “controlled by a religious organization,” I froze.

  On Sept. 9 Executive Order 13864 final rule was put into place and this was the second bullet outlined on that act.

  I am not overly knowledgeable about Title IX, but I do know that it pertains to education equality and gender and sexual based violence issues. So naturally bullet number two scared me out of my mind. I needed to talk to someone who understands what this means to me, a college student. So, I found Catherine Welch, the St. Michael’s College Title IX coordinator. Welch focuses on all potential issues gender based, whether it be gender based violence or gender-based issues in general, that might deny someone access to their education.

Q: What is Title IX?

A: Title IX is a rule or regulation that was first released in 1972, signed into law by President Nixon. It essentially says no one’s access to education should be or can be denied based on gender.

Q: Had sexual assault issues on college campuses always fallen under Title IX? If not, why do they now?

A: The focus on Title IX and sexual assault started back in the Obama administration, so 2008-2016. The administration took issues of sexual assault and violence on campuses and said that folks that might be experiencing this, their access to education is 100% being affected and colleges need to deal with it. They aimed to create a system where colleges and universities were very survivor focused and trauma informed. This was all encouraged, not required. We are now seeing that change with a shift in presidential administrations. The Trump administration and Betsy Devos took the last four years to undergo this lengthy comment and review period to release regulations that are binding. It was the first-time regulations for Title IX had been released since 1972. It is a big deal that she went through a different process than the Obama administration did to really require that colleges follow the regulation put in place.

Q: Who is Betsy Devos and what does her role have to do with Title IX?

A: Betsy Devos is the Secretary of Education as appointed by the Trump administration. Within the Department of Education is the issue of civil rights. They are the ones that wake up in the morning thinking about civil rights issues. That’s so many things from K-12 into higher education. One of the things is thinking about gender and sexual based violence in any educational system.

Q: Why would a shift in presidential administrations change this?

A: Some would say that the Trump administration believed Title IX to be like a sort of pendulum that the Obama administration had swung too far in one direction. The Trump administration was interested in swinging that pendulum back to the middle. Focus was put more on due process rights. They were and are very concerned about those accused, and that the rights of individuals in due process are adhered to and respected.

Q: How has the process of reporting changed?

A: So, I think that’s yet to be seen since schools have only had to adhere to these requirements since August 14th. The process for Title IX complaints that we are now required to adhere to does require a live hearing. Before these new requirements sexual assault complaints were done through a shuttling process. I, as the Title IX coordinator, was often used as a middle ground for both parties to communicate through. There was never a live hearing. We now realize that this process involving a live hearing is potentially one reason why folks choose not to go through the criminal justice law enforcement system. Both parties won’t be in the same room but both parties’ advisors will have the ability to ask people questions. Advisors will communicate through some means of technology during these hearings such as Zoom.

Q: What is the “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities” Executive Order?

A: So, I don’t know all the details of that, but I do know a question that was kind of floating while they were doing their final question and comment period was “Can religious institutions apply for an exemption from the order if they want to make that argument?” That question had been lingering for a while and this order gave an answer to that. The answer is now yes.

Q: So will St. Michael’s stop following the Title IX guidelines?

A:  St. Michael’s College is committed to addressing sexual and gender-based violence and would not seek any sort of exemption.

Illustration by Ashley DeLeon