Buffalo State College recently adopted changes to Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination in educational institutions on the basis of sex. While these nationwide modifications come at a time when the campus is still adapting to the many changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the college remains dedicated to helping students feel secure when reporting discrimination or harassment, said Nina Pierino, Buffalo State’s sexual assault prevention coordinator.
“We’re looking to support our students in the best way we can with these changes,” she said. “We always want to encourage our students to report any misconduct.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos introduced the new Title IX provisions in May, and they took effect in August. Some key differences in the general policy include a narrower definition of the term “sexual harassment,” which has been redefined as “any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access.” Reports of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking, however, do not need to meet the threshold of “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.”
Title IX changes also include the process of initiating investigations into allegations of sexual assault. Under the new regulations, only individuals directly involved in an incident can initiate an investigation. While the college may review third-party information, a formal investigation cannot be requested by any individual other than the accuser or the accused.
Another change involves the role of Title IX advisers for cross-examination. Title IX advisers can now be anyone appointed by either party of an investigation, including individuals outside the college community; however, complainants should consider that college faculty and staff appointed as advisers are trained to handle these specific hearings.
The new provisions also added flexibility for schools to use technology to conduct Title IX investigations and hearings remotely.
While there are some additions to the ways in which Title IX works, there are also new limitations. Regarding jurisdiction, only current students—not alumni, former students, or visitors to the campus—can request an investigation under Title IX if the alleged misconduct took place within the United States and within any of Buffalo State’s educational programs, activities, or housing facilities.
Although some processes and terminologies have changed, complaint filings and other operations have seen minimal or no changes.
“Students will still report the same way that they normally would,” said Janelle Brooks, assistant dean of student conduct and community standards. “There were no changes on the front end in terms of how we receive information.”
Even during a time of hybrid and remote learning, speaking out against discrimination, harassment, and assault is as necessary as it has always been, Pierino and Brooks emphasized.
“We want students to know, whether they’re on campus or doing virtual learning from home, they are still supported by the institution,” Pierino said.
Additional resources are available for students through Buffalo State’s Dean of Students Sexual Violence Prevention page, and through SUNY’s Sexual Assault & Violence Response (SAVR) Resources website.