United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new Title IX sexual harassment regulations in November 2018, sparking concern at universities across the nation. Members of Penn Democrats are now protesting these changes before they become official policy.
The new regulations propose a more narrow definition of sexual harassment, live cross-examination between the accuser and accused, and higher standards of evidence. If the Department of Education implements these guidelines, Penn’s Title IX coordinator will be legally bound to enforce them.
The public has an opportunity to comment on the proposal within 60 days before it is enacted as policy. In light of the upcoming Jan. 30 deadline, Penn Dems hosted a comment writing session on Wednesday, Jan. 23 informing students about the potential impacts of the new Title IX regulations and how to write an effective comment.
College freshman and Penn Dems Communications Director Tamara Wurman said Penn students have unique perspectives that makes their comments particularly important.
“Voicing our concerns and letting legislators know that we are passionate about these issues, and what they’re doing actually affects us, is really important and can’t be overstated,” said Wurman, who is also a DP staff member.
Penn Dems Deputy Board member and College freshman Aidan Mayer Ahearn also emphasized the potential impact students can have in influencing major policy changes.
“If Congress sees that there’s a large contingency of students sending in [comments], then they’re going to feel more pressured to make that sort of change and that can only benefit us,” Ahearn said.
The Department of Education is required to reply to comments if they deem them substantive enough. In the finalized guidelines, the Department must say why they decided to implement changes based on the comments or if not, why they did not decide to adopt the suggestions in the comments.
Penn Dems are using these comments to voice their concerns over DeVos' proposal, particularly their opposition to the new definition that narrows what constitutes sexual harassment.
“I’m very concerned about the impact on people’s confidence reporting, because already there’s a huge stigma surrounding sexual assault,” Wurman said.
Penn Dems President and College sophomore Emma Carlson echoed her sentiments, noting that “accusations don’t come lightly.”