August 14, 2020
Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty:
In May, the U.S. Department of Education released new Title IX regulations which required Amherst, and all educational institutions that receive federal funding, to make changes to our policies related to sexual harassment by today, August 14, 2020. I write to share important updates to Amherst’s policies related to sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment, as well as our plan moving forward.
Over the summer, the Title IX Team, in collaboration with the Offices of Student Affairs, Human Resources, and the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, developed this Interim Title IX Policy and Interim Title IX Grievance Process, both of which are applicable to all students, faculty, and staff.
The Interim Title IX Policy and the Interim Title IX Grievance Process are effective as of today.
We chose to develop interim policies because of the short timeframe within which we were required to update our policies. We hoped to minimize changes to our existing policy and procedures this summer, a time when, due to the significant disruption of COVID-19 to all our lives, we simply could not attain the type of community conversation and input that are critical when our work matters so much. The interim nature of the new Title IX Policy and Grievance Process will allow us to fully engage in those conversations over the coming year and to make adjustments, where possible, as we implement final policies for the next academic year.
Here are some key points:
The College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy has been replaced with the Interim Title IX Policy.
The new federal Title IX regulations narrow the breadth of sex-based behaviors that are prohibited by Title IX, and the College’s Interim Title IX Policy covers only those behaviors that are defined as “Title IX sexual harassment” under the law. Therefore, some sex- and gender-based behaviors that had been covered by the College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy are no longer covered by Title IX, such as some off-campus incidents and some forms of sexual harassment that are not, under the law, considered “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.”
Critically, sex- or gender-based behaviors that do not fall under the College’s Interim Title IX Policy are still prohibited by the College. The College’s new (and soon to be released) Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy is a comprehensive policy prohibiting identity-based discrimination and harassment, including those forms of sex- or gender-based harassment that are no longer covered by Title IX.
Resources and support remain available to any community member who feels they have experienced any sex- or gender-based behaviors, and we continue to encourage individuals to report all concerns.
The new Interim Title IX Grievance Process governs the complaint, investigation, and resolution of all formal Title IX complaints brought against any Amherst student, faculty, or staff member. In accordance with the new Title IX regulations, the interim Process provides for a live hearing for any formal complaint brought against a community member from any cohort. Also, in accordance with the new federal rules, advisors for parties to a formal complaint are required, at hearing, to conduct questioning of the other party and any witnesses. Parties who do not have an advisor for the hearing will be provided one by the College.
Finally, the new regulations require that we have a consistent standard of evidence by which all Title IX complaints will be reviewed. The Interim Title IX Grievance Process provides for the use of the preponderance of the evidence (or, more likely than not) standard. For faculty, this represents a shift from the clear and convincing standard that is otherwise applicable in the Faculty Handbook.
We expect that these changes will spark questions and concerns. This fall, the Title IX Review Committee, composed of students, faculty, and staff, will engage in education and listening sessions on the interim Policy and Grievance Process. Your participation and feedback will allow us to work with you to craft a final Title IX Policy and Grievance Process that continues to meet our legal obligations and the needs of our community.
I look forward to the conversation.
Yours in community,
Laurie A. Frankl