Lawson responds to Title IX changes

After DeVos’ federal actions, XU is set on changing policies and procedures

Written By: Mo Juenger

During her ninth year as the Title IX officer, Kate Lawson is having to
change Xavier’s procedures after a controversial set of federal policies.

Xavier’s Title IX Office will change its name to the “Title IX and Interpersonal Violence Response Office” after new policy guidelines for U.S. colleges were laid out by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, though Xavier’s current policies and procedures will remain largely unchanged.

The new standards require that Title IX offices provide live hearings for allegations of sexual misconduct and allow students’ advisers to cross-examine witnesses during these hearings. They also narrow the definition of what is covered by Title IX. 

DeVos’ update was first announced in 2018, after the removal of an Obama-era policy known as the “Dear Colleague” letter. 

Prior Title IX guidelines encouraged colleges to use a “preponderance of evidence” to determine whether a student should be removed from campus because of sexual misconduct. The new guidelines state that colleges may choose to use a preponderance of evidence or a “clear and convincing” standard with a higher burden of proof. 

Chief Title IX Officer Kate Lawson noted in her June 30 letter to campus that Xavier would continue to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard, which has a lower burden of proof. 

“We believe it results in the most equitable, appropriate standard for an institution’s internal sex discrimination complaint resolution process,” Lawson wrote. 

Lawson also noted in her letter that DeVos’ Title IX guidelines “narrow the definition” of what is now covered by the Title IX Department. She clarified that Xavier will continue to address the issues no longer covered by Title IX in a “a set of non‐Title IX interpersonal violence and sex discrimination policies.”

Despite the changes to the official names of the Title IX office and policies, Lawson reiterated that current procedures will mostly remain the same.

“Our interpersonal violence policies are essentially our (current) policies,” she said, adding that Interpersonal Violence will also address sex discrimination toward students abroad, which is now no longer covered by federal Title IX regulations.

The new requirements also permit schools to use informal resolution methods in cases of sexual misconduct, such as mediation and restorative justice. Though Xavier will continue to use the formal resolution methods it has utilized in previous years, Lawson announced that Xavier plans to research how other schools enforce informal resolution methods. 

“We do not plan to change that policy. We do plan to study it, maybe to see how other schools are doing it,” Lawson said of informal resolution. “I think what’s important to me is to not close out what might feel like a good or appropriate response from a reporting party’s perspective.” 

DeVos’ requirements are not impacting Xavier’s mandated reporter policies, which have been in place since 2013, according to Lawson. The new requirements align with Xavier’s current policy requiring all employees, except those designated confidential or privileged communication informants, to report any knowledge of sexual discrimination or misconduct on campus. 

“This policy… has been extremely effective in connecting individuals impacted by sex discrimination to appropriate resources and receiving accurate, comprehensive information on their rights, options, and resources,” Lawson wrote. 

The new rules also do not require colleges to follow a specific timeline when addressing Title IX complaints, though Lawson stated that Xavier would continue to address complaints “promptly and comprehensively.” 

Like some critics of the new guidelines, Lawson said they can add hurdles to the response process. 

“This creates additional barriers for people impacted by sex discrimination,” she said. 

She noted that though the policies may bar some students from receiving support from Title IX, Xavier plans to continue supporting all reporting parties. 

“There was a learning curve for our community when I got there in 2013, and there will be a learning curve again… Our goal is to help students. I will always try to be highly accessible to students,” Lawson said. 

In an Aug. 6 email to students and staff, Lawson announced that she would host various forums this fall regarding the new office responsibilities. Dates for these forums have not yet been announced.