Universities await Title IX changes under new Biden administration, LGBTQ+ students, survivors to be affected


Courtesy of It's On US

Before Covid-19, students gathered at the It’s On Us Take Back the Night event to show support for victims and survivors of sexual assault. The student organization works closely with Title IX coordinators.

President Joe Biden released a statement making an “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation” on Jan. 20. The order formalized the Biden administration’s commitment to protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

The executive order states, “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”

St. Edward’s stands by the values put forth in this executive order. Their Non-Discrimination Statement reads, “St. Edward’s University adheres to all federal, state, and local civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in employment and education. St. Edward’s University does not discriminate in its admissions practices [except as permitted by law], in its employment practices, or in its educational programs or activities on the basis of sex/gender.” In this statement, “sex” is defined as the any of the following: sex, sex stereotypes, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation and pregnancy or parenting status.

Vice President of Student Affairs Lisa Kirkpatrick, Ph.D believes this executive order to be “foreshadowing that the Department of Education will interpret protections under Title IX to extend to sexual orientation and gender identity— which will reverse the previous administration’s approach to civil rights as enforced under Title IX.”

With Biden’s recent order and his progressive agenda, many students might be curious as to how else the  administration will affect life at St. Edward’s. Kirkpatrick predicts, “While I don’t have a crystal ball by any means, I think we can assume that anyone chosen by President Biden will take on the Biden and Harris agenda and will reverse or minimize some of the controversial policies advanced by the prior Secretary [of Education].”

Some other changes that St. Edward’s can be expecting are changes in the Title IX process. Effective Aug. 14, 2020, St. Edward’s revised its Title IX policies and procedures to include live and virtual hearings to decide allegations of sexual misconduct. This new addition was the result of new Title IX regulations that were issued by the U.S. Department of Education in May. 

The updated Title IX regulations set forward by the former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos included provisions such as the following: Under the new regulations, all schools have the right to dismiss any sexual misconduct allegations that don’t meet the new, narrow definition of sexual harassment; universities will not cover conduct that occurs when students study abroad; and universities cannot be liable for failing to respond to a harassment allegations unless they act with deliberate indifference.

These Title IX regulations were labelled as “protecting the accused,” which proved to be controversial for many reasons. 

Fatima Goss Gaves, the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, shared in a statement released on Sept. 20, 2020 that the new Title IX policies were “making it harder for sexual harassment victims to come forward, requiring schools to ignore victims in many instances when they do ask for help, and denying victims fair treatment when they try to use the system that is supposed to protect them.”

St. Edward’s complies with all requirements, but claims “there is some latitude for how universities interpret the new rules, and how they are implemented,” maintaining that they will continue to provide a number of procedural protections for the St. Edward’s community.

With the new Biden administration, many changes to the Title IX policies are to be expected, but according to Kirkpatrick, “they will take some time to implement.” She also shared, “This past week I was in a Title IX training where the presenters reminded us that the new regulations that just went into effect August 14, 2020, because they were adopted through the regulatory process, have the force and effect of law and that they can’t just be withdrawn by the new administration. The presenters shared the average time to do this is around two -to three years, no matter whether a Republican or Democratic administration.”

While students await changes to be made by the newly elected Biden administration, Kirkpatrick urges students “to practice good bystander behavior, to be watchful and safely intervene in instances where sex and gender harassment and violence may be occurring or where there might be risk in it happening.”

If a student chooses to report sexual misconduct, they can report to the Dean of Students Office, Human Resources Office or the University Police Department. Reports can be made online, in person, by phone or virtually. Students can even choose to remain anonymous when reporting.

For resources tailored to support and healing, students can access the Sexual Misconduct/Title IX tab on myHilltop for more information and resources.