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A new sexual misconduct policy goes into effect in July. In an unusual step, the Georgia Board of Regents has preempted all 30 colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia on this issue. You probably remember this was because of Tech: Tech actually disciplined students for racial harassment and sexual assault. In retaliation, the state withheld funding for the Tech library. Rep. Earl Ehrhart threatened to cut even more funding and tried to force President Peterson to resign.

Tech had been doing well with its response to sexual assault and racism. It is incredibly rare for universities to discipline sexual predators even though federal law — Title IX — requires it. (Title IX and the new sexual misconduct policy do not address racism on campus.) But we don’t want to obscure the past mistakes.

Tech was doing well because it had been nationally embarrassed by incidents like the “rapebait” fraternity email. Several campus activists, us included, lobbied the administration for a better response. We were proud that our alma mater was taking seriously its duty to protect its students from sexual violence.

The Tech community is well aware that we need to work  a lot harder — harder at making women feel welcome at Georgia Tech. We’ve seen progress, but we’re still working on evening out the infamous ratio.

Numbers, of course, are only one of the measures of equality. Taking sexual violence seriously is a necessary step towards achieving sex equality on campus. It’s a matter of morals and of federal law. Title IX demands equal opportunity in education, and the Department of Education has specified that campus sexual assault is a violation of sex equality on campus.

That’s why it was especially infuriating to see the Board of Regents swoop in, punish Tech, and preempt our policy — one that could force Tech to violate federal law. For example, the new policy’s clause on false complaints further raises the (already-high) barrier to students reporting their assault or harassment. The threat of disciplinary action will undoubtedly discourage students from reporting.

Unless and until the Board of Regents can write a policy that fully complies with Title IX (remember, the Board is composed of 17 men and only two women), they should leave it to the individual schools.

Moreover, the fact that Tech was so publicly penalized for following Title IX will make other schools hesitate before responding to sexual violence.  That is a shame and is deeply irresponsible of the state. Tech should be allowed to continue its progress. No school should be punished for protecting its students and following federal law.

The good news is, you can help. Students should feel empowered to demand change. You don’t have to be a survivor of sexual assault, or a woman, to care about this. Anyone who wants a safe, fair and equal campus should get involved. So don’t forget what happened to Tech.

Keep talking about it, especially on social media. Contact your state representatives and senators and ask them to reverse the policy. Join the Title IXers, a Tech student group that fights for campus equality. And of course, contact us if you have any questions.  When we join together, Tech students are more powerful than politicians who try to silence victims of sexual assault.

Tech is a leader in academics. Help us be a leader in keeping our students safe, too.

  • Anonymous

    While the authors do have points that the new BoR policies are not perfect, they are by no means a step in the wrong direction. The five-interviews required of an accuser is the only excessive thing that I see in the new policies – three would suffice.

    That said, the author of this article fails quite spectacularly at articulating their point. The article reads like it was written by someone who performed at C+ level in high school English; it does not cite specific points and seems to rely entirely on pathos in its poor attempt to support an already ambiguous thesis.

    I’m certain that someone not already familiar with the situation in question would be utterly confused by this article, as it lacks any semblance of proper background on the issue in question.

    I applaud the authors for their activism and spirit, but encourage them to work on their articulation and writing skills.

  • GTjustice

    The authors of this piece criticize GA State representatives for threatening to cut funding for Georgia Tech due to differences in how legislators and Tech administrators see how to address sexual violence/ due process issues.

    Then, the authors contend that this legislative interference and subsequent Board of Regents policy change reflecting concerns over due process will put GA universities in violation of federal law (specifically a violation of Title IX). This is simply untrue.

    The low “preponderance of evidence” evidentiary standard for adjudicating sexual assault cases on campus through extrajudicial (outside the realm of criminal courts) means was established through a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights through a new (and incredibly broad) interpretation of the Title IX statute, which mandates that universities cannot receive federal funding if they practice gender discrimination. “Dear colleague” letters are not binding and do not carry the force of law; they are suggestions only. No elected representative provided input for this new interpretation of Title IX explained in the “Dear Colleague” letter.

    Despite the “Dear Colleague” letter not being a law or regulation, the Obama Administration has filed Title IX investigations against schools that have not implemented the letter’s instructions. The Administration has in essence threatened to cut off federal funding for universities in this fashion, yet I hear no protests from the “Title IXers” group. On the one hand, they detest GA state legislative interference with campus matters; on the other hand, they believe that universities should comply with this clear federal interference in campus matters.

    I would go further to add that the Board of Regents changes do not go far enough. Universities are not equipped to properly investigate sexual assault allegations, and in any event, cannot serve real justice to perpetrators. Universities can still provide support to victims, but all investigative powers should be reserved for the traditional legal system.

  • VTHVBE

    “Tech should be allowed to continue its progress.”

    “Progress” defined as letting Peter Paquette and the OSI continue to ruin students’ lives based on nothing but an accusation by another student, without any corroborating evidence, or even in spite of evidence that contradicts the accusation?

    The hammer didn’t get dropped on Tech because it was following Title IX. It got dropped because Tech was declaring students guilty of horrible crimes without giving them due process.

    A university is not a court of law. Rape and sexual assault are serious crimes. They should be reported to and punished by the legal system, not by the standard of “The accuser must be telling the truth, because why would anyone ever lie about something like that?”

  • David

    Shorter version: sexual assault is a serious crime, and is so serious that we need to establish a parallel justice system staffed by people lacking in legal training, in which we abandon fundamental civil rights such as due process and right to face one’s accuser.

    I can’t imagine why the Board of Regents would want to override something that violates so many of our fundamental values of justice. I suppose it’s better for 10 people to be slandered than have 1 accuser exposed for making a false claim.

    • Anna Harrison

      So the ‘parallel justice system’ that you discuss is actually required by federal law, so whether or not you agree with schools handling sexual assault cases, Tech is federally mandated to. This means Tech will lose federal funding if it does not do so.

      One important distinction is that campus cases are not handled as criminal cases (but victims can choose to criminally persecute as well!). This means that cases handled on campus do not result in prison time or being legally labeled as a sex offender. Attending Tech is a privilege, not a right.

  • Anna Harrison

    The definition of consent went from 400 words (Tech’s old policy) to 100 words (new policy). This creates an incredibly ambiguous definition of consent, which protects no one – other than maybe lawyers. An ambiguous definition of consent does not allow one to defend themselves against false accusations, nor does it allow one to successfully argue that their sexual assault was indeed assault. If we do not have a good definition of consent, we do not have a good definition of assault, which helps no one.

    For context – new policy:
    Words or actions that show a knowing and voluntary willingness to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity. Consent cannot be gained by force, intimidation or coercion, by ignoring or acting in spite of objections of another, or by taking advantage of the incapacitation of another, where the respondent knows or reasonably should have known of such incapacitation. Consent is also absent when the activity in question exceeds the scope of consent previously given. Past consent does not imply present or future consent. Silence or an absence of resistance does not imply consent. Minors under the age of 16 cannot legally consent under Georgia law.

    Old GTPolicy:
    “Consent” consent means informed, freely and actively given, mutually understandable words or actions which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity. Consent is not effectively given if the agreement results from the use of physical force, threats, intimidation, or coercion. Consent is absent when a person has sexual contact with another when the initiator knew, or reasonably should have known, that the other person(s) is incapacitated..

    What Consent Means

    Consent begins when individuals decide together to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other. It is the responsibility of the initiator, or the person who wants to engage in the specific sexual activity, to make sure that he or she has consent from his or her partner(s).
    Consent to one form of sexual activity does not necessarily imply consent to any other form of sexual activity.
    The initiator must obtain consent at every stage of sexual interaction.
    Consent will exist when both of these standards are met:
    a reasonable person would consider the words or actions of the parties to have manifested an agreement between them to do the same thing, in the same way, at the same time, with one another; and
    the Student believed in good faith that the words or actions of the parties to have manifested an agreement between them to do the same thing, in the same way, at the same time, with one another.
    Consent may never be given by incapacitated persons.
    Incapacitation refers to the victim’s inability to understand the situation, understand the consequences of his/her choices, or to express his/her desires. This may include, but is not limited to, intoxication, being under the influence of drugs, unconsciousness, or other cognitive impairment, or being under the age of consent in accordance with Georgia state law.
    Additional Clarifying Rules of Consent:

    A person who is the object of sexual aggression is not required to physically or otherwise resist a sexual aggressor.
    Silence or passivity may not be considered consent; the absence of “No” does not imply consent.
    Previous sexual relationships or the existence of a current relationship with the Respondent does not imply consent.
    Consent cannot be implied by attire, or inferred from the giving or receiving of gifts, money or other items.
    Consent to sexual activity may be withdrawn at any time, as long as the withdrawal is communicated clearly. Withdrawal of consent can be done in numerous ways and need not be a verbal withdrawal of consent.
    The Respondent’s intentional use of alcohol/drugs does not excuse a violation of policy.

    • Anna Harrison

      (Deleted my earlier comment because it was a duplicate)

    • Joel Anderson

      Brevity != Ambiguity

      • Anna Harrison

        True – not in all cases. However, if you read the policies that I included below, you will see that in this case, the new policy is much less clear.