Board of Regent’s new sexual misconduct policy threatens Tech’s progress

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.