Content warning: This article references sexual assault and harassment.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education (DOE) released proposed rule changes to Title IX, reinstating many protections rolled back under the previous presidential administration. In response, President John J. DeGioia submitted a formal comment in favor of many of the proposed changes on Sept. 12.
The DOE’s proposed amendments include an expansion of the Title IX process to sex discrimination and conduct that occurs outside of the U.S. or off-campus; it would also lower the classification standard for sexual harassment to encompass a broader range of hostile and unwelcome behavior. Notably, the amendments would extend Title IX to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, an expansion of the protections for LGBTQ+ students. During the previous changes under Secretary DeVos—unpopular among many students, who cited greater difficulty for survivors to seek adjudication—Georgetown committed to upholding higher standards; now many of those standards would be guaranteed under federal law.
DeGioia’s response to the changes is based on student, faculty, and staff input, similar to the university’s formal comment on the proposed changes. Following the release of new guidelines this past June, the university conducted listening sessions to inform the official comment.
“Many individual viewpoints, along with our core Jesuit values, have helped to shape and inform this comment,” DeGioia wrote in the comment. “We are encouraged to see that these newly proposed regulations address many of our prior concerns that Georgetown and thousands of other commenters raised in 2019.”
Following two Georgetown campus climate surveys in 2016 and 2019, the university found students of color may avoid reporting incidents due to a lack of trust in the judicial system. Student organizations like the Black Survivors Coalition and Sexual Assault Peer Educators (SAPE) have advocated for years for an expansion of survivor-centric protections and resources, especially for Black, femme survivors. A BSC-organized sit-in of Healy Hall in 2020 yielded the university’s promise to change a number of internal policies for survivors, including increasing access to Black clinicians hired to serve survivors of color, whose services will continue to be free of charge to students in the 2022-2023 school year.
DeGioia’s comment supports a regulation that would allow for more informal resolutions of sexual misconduct cases to lower barriers in reporting processes. Additionally, universities under the new rule would be required to investigate all sexual harassment complaints, formal or otherwise.
Editor’s Note: A correction was made to reflect that clinicians hired in response to the BSC demands have had their contracts extended in the 2022-2023 school year.