On May 6, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a sweeping set of policies codifying in law the ways universities can respond to and investigate Title IX sexual misconduct allegations. Many of the changes overrule previous guidance issued by the Obama administration and have been widely denounced by victims’ rights groups and universities themselves as biased towards the accused and unenforceable and one-size-fits-all.
Stanford will have to quickly adapt to this sea change in Title IX policy before the regulations take effect on August 14. In a recent email, Provost Persis Drell cited an official response by the Association of American Universities, of which Stanford is a member institution. The response from the universities boils down to three main prongs: The rules infringe upon university autonomy to handle disciplinary procedures, force Title IX offices to become quasi-judicial bodies and will have a chilling effect on survivors who wish to come forward with claims against fellow students and faculty members.
More troubling is the cruelty of DeVos’ new policies. Specifically, the requirement for a live cross-examination of both parties represents a clear effort to intimidate survivors. The emotional toll of facing one’s aggressor is a terrifying prospect — there is no reason to transform a professionally conducted investigation into a judicial spectacle. While I personally cannot speak to the experience of being a victim of sexual assault or harassment, this year I became involved in the issue in a way I never anticipated. I am against DeVos’ rules even though they are designed to tip the scale in favor of people in my position. The old Title IX system worked the way it was supposed to in my case. The harm the new policies cause for survivors far outweighs any hypothetical benefit.
I spent my last quarter at Stanford before the pandemic navigating the murky depths of Stanford’s Title IX process as a responding student, someone accused of misconduct. The allegation came out of the blue in January. An email arrived informing me that I had been accused of stalking and sexual harassment. I could count on one hand the number of times I had seen him on campus. We had at most two conversations, neither of which were confrontational, both of which happened in public.
I was devastated. Bewilderment set in soon afterwards. The allegations outlined in the notice of concern were not sexual in nature, and all were fabricated. The following months, I spent hours per week preparing for interviews with investigators, gathering evidence to make my case, not to mention dealing with the emotional stress of trying to understand why it all was happening.
My journey through the Title IX process played out exactly the way it was supposed to. Experienced investigators were presented with a set of allegations, and after over 60 days of thorough witness interviews, evidentiary review and deliberation, they concluded the claims were baseless.
Throughout the process, I came to realize how lucky I was. Thankfully, I had the foresight to save months of text messages and voice memos, without which I would have had no concrete evidence to refute the accusations. My parents were incredibly supportive and I was provided nine hours of free legal counsel from an independent lawyer, offered to both parties.
It is likely that my case would not have even made it to the Title IX office under Secretary DeVos’ new policies, which obligate schools to only investigate claims filed through formal channels, not through RAs or other authority figures. The final “no charge” ruling on my case from the Title IX office came after I had returned home to my self-isolation: the case was closed, the allegations were expunged from my record, the hold on my degree conferral was lifted and I had been cleared of any and all wrongdoing. I was no longer bound to confidentiality about my experience. I felt an immense weight lifted off of my shoulders.
Yet I am keenly aware that my situation represents a tiny minority of cases. Malicious false accusations are not ubiquitous and should not in any way delegitimize actual reports of harassment and assault. One of the hardest things I grappled with throughout the ordeal was the sheer amount of resources and manpower my case diverted from actual survivors in need of the Title IX office’s assistance.
Battling a false accusation while simultaneously advocating for the rights of survivors in my public life was a difficult space to inhabit. My personal philosophy will always be to respect and believe those who share their stories of sexual assault or harassment. Close friends have come to me with their personal stories of abuse. Yet there I was, on the other side, engaged in a months-long fight to defend my reputation, my academic standing and my chance at justice.
I will never fully understand what motivated him to file these allegations, but I have realized that it is not a productive topic to waste any more energy agonizing over. Now is the time to organize and push back against the Trump administration’s efforts to make campuses less safe for victims. Now is the time to ignore cases like mine and support our friends and community members who will undoubtedly face the tangible consequences of these new Title IX policies. We cannot afford to go backward at a time when the movement to end sexual harassment is at a tipping point. Let us work together to foster an environment at Stanford where, regardless of federal policy, survivors are able to safely access resources and pursue resolution.
Anonymous undergraduate ’23
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