Early last year, the Department of Education released revised Title IX regulations, which made several changes to the previous Obama-era Title IX guidance. Among the most damaging changes was the narrowing of the definition of sexual harassment as well as the requirement that in order to be covered under Title IX, an assault had to take place either on campus or in association with educational programming.
In response to these changes, Stanford promised to create an ancillary process to fill the gap the federal guidelines left. And, last September, Stanford unveiled the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Education (SHARE) office, charged with overseeing this new process.
However, the SHARE process has severe limitations in terms of the survivors it serves. It is also unnecessarily complex and has been made even more convoluted by a disjointed revision process.
First, the SHARE process covers a more limited scope of sexual misconduct than the Obama-era Title IX process. The previous Title IX process allowed for an investigation in all cases of sexual violence where there was still any ongoing risk of harm to the community. In contrast, the SHARE process only covers incidents where the perpetrator is a student, faculty member, staff member or postdoctoral scholar at the time of the violation and the report. This means, for example, that if an alleged perpetrator graduates, even if they plan on eventually re-enrolling for graduate school, they could not be investigated by the SHARE office. Furthermore, these limitations add complexity to the process, making it less understandable to survivors, particularly younger survivors such as undergraduate students.
Furthermore, even within the limited scope of incidents the SHARE process does cover, troublesome distinctions are made. If the perpetrator is a student or faculty member, a “hearing” process is initiated. However, if the perpetrator is a staff member or a postdoctoral scholar, a separate “investigation” process is initiated, even if the alleged misconduct is the same. The split between hearing and investigation processes has consequences.
Survivors are afforded a formal hearing in the hearing process, giving them the opportunity to present their case, but not the investigation process. Survivors undergoing the hearing process are also offered more pro-bono legal assistance than those undergoing the investigation process. Furthermore, complaints in the hearing process are reviewed by an independent decision-maker, while those in the investigation process are reviewed by a Stanford affiliate.
Not only does this distinction seem completely arbitrary, but the needless complexity it adds to the SHARE process is also likely to have a chilling effect on reporting. It is well known that when procedures are too convoluted and overwhelming, survivors do not report. Complex procedures also disproportionately disadvantage low-income students, both survivors and those who are accused, as complexity simply increases the importance of paid legal assistance.
This complexity has only been compounded by the disjointed, unpredictable revision process. When the original SHARE process was released, there was no revision process announced. This meant there was no formal opportunity for community comment or response. Although some revisions were ultimately made, they were made without any announcement or transparent community collaboration. This lack of clarity has only exacerbated the SHARE processes’ complexity.
As an editorial board, we are asking for SHARE to be expanded to cover all incidents where there is an ongoing risk of harm, returning to the Obama-era scope of Title IX. Furthermore, we are asking for the process to be consolidated and simplified. These changes should take place following a formal review and revision process — one that is announced, explained and invites the participation of the stakeholders including students, faculty and staff.
Before closing, we feel it is important to note that this is among several editorials we have written about the failures of this university to oversee a Title IX process that is fair and accessible — a process that is responsive to survivor needs and provides for the possibility of a safer campus. This is reflective of the fatal flaws in our current Title IX procedures. We believe these flaws exist, in part, due to the consistent failure of the administration to solicit and respond to the feedback of community members, particularly survivors.
We hope that this new year is the time this changes, and that the SHARE process will become the subject of community critique that is thoughtfully considered and incorporated by administrators.
The Vol. 258 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Layo Laniyan ’22, Elizabeth Lindqwister ’21, Adrian Liu ’20, Patrick Monreal ’22, Megha Parwani ’21 and Cooper Ryan Veit ’22.
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