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Photo by Gage Skidmore | CC BY-SA 2.0

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s proposed Title IX regulations move one step closer to approval on Jan. 30, when the period for public comment on the proposal draws to a close. 

Proposed changes to Title IX policies, which Penn would legally be required to follow, will discourage survivors from reporting incidents of sexual misconduct. Penn must communicate to students the steps it will take to protect the rights of survivors on campus. 

The new regulations will change Penn’s legal obligations under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. Federal agencies are required to solicit feedback from the public on proposed regulations, and the deadline to submit comments on this proposal is Jan. 30.

The new policies would narrow the definition of sexual harassment, grant the accused additional rights, and require live hearings which allow for cross-examination of the accuser and the accused, among other changes. 

Penn has some flexibility in how it can implement the new regulations into University policy. In navigating the new guidelines, the administration must prioritize the rights of victims. 

Under the proposed regulations, universities would no longer be held responsible for investigating incidents of sexual violence that occur off campus. Almost half of Penn undergraduates live in off-campus residences. As a result, the administration must reassure students that it will continue to investigate incidents that take place beyond campus boundaries, even if the University is no longer legally required to do so. 

Penn has not yet commented on the potential consequences of these regulations on our community. 

“We are still waiting for their final regulations to be published so that we can study the complete details of their new rules,” University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian in November 2018. 

Many peer institutions, including Harvard University and Yale University, proactively reached out to students about the possible effects of the new guidelines on their schools’ procedures. Brown University’s Title IX Officer spoke to students at a town hall in December about what regulations meant for Brown and steps students could take to provide feedback to the university.  

Sexual violence is far too common on Penn’s campus. Among Penn undergraduate respondents to a 2015 survey by the American Association of Universities, 27 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men reported experiencing nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching since entering college.

On Jan. 22, the Penn Almanac, a publication for University faculty and staff, published proposed sexual misconduct policy, resources, and complaint procedures. Although Penn sent a University Notification email to the Penn community to solicit feedback on proposed changes to its sexual misconduct policy in March 2018, the student body was not notified about the most recent proposal.

It is the University’s responsibility to protect its students and the wider Penn community from sexual violence. The proposed regulations will make it increasingly difficult to do so. In response, Penn must outline its next steps and alert students to any major changes that will happen.

Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.

If you are interested in providing comment to the Department of Education on the proposed Title IX regulations, you can submit here by Wednesday, Jan. 30. You can also submit comments and suggestions regarding Penn's proposed sexual misconduct policy, resources, and complaint procedures to Joann Mitchell at joannm@upenn.edu or Office of the President, 100 College Hall/6380 no later than Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

This editorial has been updated to reflect the University's Jan. 22 proposal in the Penn Almanac.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.