New federal changes could force UVM to change sexual assault policies


Alek Fleury

A #meToo sign outside Living Well that allowed students to sign about their own #meToo stories.

Brandon Arcari and Sawyer Loftus

Updates to federal rules on sexual assault investigations by the Department of Education could soon force UVM to change its policies.

The newly-published updates, originally leaked in September, would alter the way colleges are expected to handle Title IX investigations. Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at colleges.

Since the release of the proposed changes, Hannah Weiss, a UVM graduate student, has been working to raise awareness of the negative impact these changes would have at UVM.

“These new proposed changes are taking us back to the late eighties of how we used to handle sexual assault,” Weiss said.

Weiss and other critics of the proposals are most concerned over changes to the cross examination process and new definitions on the grounds UVM can investigate, she said.

The changes to the cross examination process would require colleges and universities to hold a hearing with both the accuser and accused present, to be asked questions by the other sides’ advisers.

The changes would require UVM to only investigate on campus sexual assaults between students and not off campus assaults between students, Weiss said.

According to the new rules, schools will have a choice to use the 2011 standard or a new standard that requires that the accusation be “highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.”

“I think the new changes are focused on protecting people who assault other people,” Weiss said. “I think it’s honestly gonna protect rich white boys who go to Ivy League schools.”

Weiss is a survivor of sexual assault, and in her case she got justice, but many, especially on college campuses don’t, she said.

“I was really lucky, I had a very unique experience with the system,” Weiss said. “But that’s not an experience for a lot of survivors, and it’s not a common experience at all.”

At UVM Weiss said that there is a rape problem, but one that impacts every single college campus across the country.

“I think there’s a rape problem at UVM, I think there is a rape problem everywhere,” she said. “But I think because we live in a rape culture, it is impossible to find a place in this country where there’s not a rape problem.”

UVM will be providing input on the changes, but doesn’t expect changes to be put into effect within the next six months, UVM Communications Director Enrique Corredera stated in a Nov. 27 email to the Cynic.

There is a 60 day public comment window that closes Jan. 28, 2018, and anyone who has concerns over the proposed changes should comment, Weiss said.

The proposed updates come after the Department of Education rescinded a 2011 Obama administration letter in 2017. The 2011 letter said that schools should sanction the accused if it was more likely than not that an incident happened.

The 2011 letter did not impact UVM’s policies, as they already used the “more likely than not” standard for all misconduct investigations, including sexual harassment and misconduct, according to a Dec. 5 email from Corredera.

Nick Stanton, UVM’s Title IX Coordinator declined to comment separately from Corredera’s statements.