Federal Changes to Title IX Blurry its Enforcement on College Campuses

by, Katie Heneghan & Maria Thomas, Web Editor and News Editor 

On Aug. 14th, changes to the standard set of Title IX guidelines went into effect on numerous college campuses across America. However, despite these changes made by the U.S. Department of Education, Manhattan College will continue with their pre-existing Title IX policy where they are able to. 

The NCAA has always had their own set of rules and regulations regarding Title IX. This system of enforcement ensures that all students are treated equally and fairly on the basis of gender. It has an overlap with the logistical aspects of the student-athlete experience, such as scholarship and eligibility matters — while also functioning as a deterrent against egregious offenses like sexual assaults.

Perhaps the most notable revision made to the Title IX constitution is that collegiate coaches and athletic trainers are no longer mandated to report sexual assault allegations brought to their attention. However, this tweak to the reporting standards is not an absolute mandate, and so the college has opted against allowing the exemption. 

Kathryn Mirance, the associate athletic director for Business Operations and Senior Woman Administrator, works directly with the college’s Title IX officer, Sheetal Kale, in investigating sexual assault and harassment allegations related to the athletics department amd the varsity sports teams. 

“While the law has evolved and said that [mandated reporters] are not necessarily required, we are still utilizing our reporting structure and requirements — that our coaches and staff, athletic trainers ‘see something, say something’,” Mirance said. “If they’re made aware of something or they see something they’re concerned about, they are still required on our campus to make those reports.”

The reporting procedures are not exactly the same, though. For instance, the process by which a student chooses to report a case of sexual assault or harrasment now requires a writing component to describe the specifics of each complaint. The school has updated its Title IX code to reflect this new condition. 

In regards to this new writing requirement, Kale believes having students file formal, written reports provides them with more control over their situation, as opposed to a student speaking to a mandated reporter about something they might not want reported in the first place.

“I believe it is a positive step that the new rules require complainants to file a written complaint, as it gives them complete authority over whether they would like to pursue a Title IX investigation and hearing process,” Kale said. 

An additional change to the policy that the school has adopted is the mandatory provision of advisers to both the complainant and the respondent — if that is what the stakeholders desire. This piece of legislation also includes the option of cross-examination for either party through the advisers. 

Although the school was required to implement these changes by federal guidelines, Kale feels a cross-examination is misguided because of its legal connotations. 

“The one change that I don’t agree with is the cross-examination requirement, as I believe that it unnecessarily turns what is supposed to be a school process into an overly legal one, that borrows features from the criminal justice system,” Kale said.

At least this new regulatory infrastructure may not be as unwieldy as it could be, because Kale believes it could have resulted in a counterproductive system of investigation and reporting.

“I am happy to see that the process is toned down from what we originally thought it would be, and that now the cross-examination requirement is a process that must go through advisers rather than through the complainants and respondents directly,” Kale said.

Furthermore, Mirance appreciates the fact that the Department of Education is taking into consideration that each college campus should use the approach that best suits them.

“What’s really interesting about the changes to the law is that it still gives the colleges and universities some leeway in terms of what they institute on their own campuses,” Mirance said. 

Additionally, student-athletes receive NCAA mandated training that is tailored just for them. In this case, athletes are able to know and understand their rights as students, while also being aware of the likely actions their coaches and athletic trainers will take in the event of a conflict. 

“The NCAA actually requires that we do student-athlete specific training,” Mirance said. “Aside from the fact that it’s required, it’s also really important to know your rights, so it’s our job to give that information to our student-athletes. So, it is part of the welcome back meetings that we have and we also do an online educational training that’s sent to all student-athletes that’s specific to student-athletes.”

She continued. 

“We send that information out to our student-athletes so they are aware of what their reporting options are, who they can speak to, who on campus and within their pod of people is confidential versus non-confidential. Because a lot of student-athletes think ‘Oh, well I mentioned it to my coach thinking it was in confidence,’ or ‘I said it to my athletic trainer thinking it was in confidence’ because sometimes those conversations are,” Mirance said. 

While these federal changes to Title IX affect the rights of students across the country, student-athletes at Manhattan College will not be affected by the majority of these alterations. Nevertheless, student-athletes are encouraged to remain informed on the college’s current policies and resources.