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GRAC coordinator speaks on impact of federal Title IX changes at Willamette

Nat Felten

Staff writer

Art by Maizy Goerlitz.

The changes to Title IX by the Trump administration have been a cause for concern for students and staff on college campuses. Title IX is a law that protects students from discrimination in education based on sex. The Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been criticized for making it harder for sexual assault survivors to come forward with allegations. Andrea Hugmeyer, director of the Gender Resource & Advocacy Center at Willamette and confidential advocate, gave her thoughts about the state of Title IX in an interview with the Collegian. Interim Title IX Coordinator Darci Heroy could not be reached for an interview.

The Trump administration’s changes began in 2018 with the repeal of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence that was released by the Obama administration. This letter, which included definitions for sexual misconduct, provided guidance on how universities should change their policies to better aid sexual assault survivors. The Trump administration’s changes narrowed the definition of sexual misconduct and has put greater emphasis on due process for those accused. “The difference between the Dear Colleague letter and the new regulations is the Dear Colleague letter was guidance,” said Hugmeyer. “The new regulations actually are attached to the Title IX [law].”

Hugmeyer described the Obama administration’s efforts as the result of years of advocacy and protest for “survivor centered and trauma informed practices.” According to her, the Trump administration’s changes are “swinging the pendulum back towards what some people say align more with the structures and ideas of the criminal justice system.”

DeVos has said that the changes to Title IX are to protect the rights of all students, both the survivors and the accused. Hugmeyer said that “some of the good to come from the new regulations would be more resources and attention allocated to supporting that respondent [person accused of misconduct] too”. She says this is not to minimize the experiences of survivors, but as a way to support the community as a whole. “There’s an emotional impact to anyone going through something like this, and maybe the positive perspective is that those committing harm will also have more explicit access to care as needed, too… If there’s any positives to come out of the new regulations, it is just thinking about the additional support for our students who have been in the role of respondent, that is part of the equity too.”

Regardless of any changes to federal law, Hugmeyer said that the goals of her office remain unchanged, “We’re here to support people with any emotional needs that they have, questions about reporting, whether it's law enforcement or through the school’s sexual misconduct process… and really just support the healing and empowerment of students who have been impacted.”

Hugmeyer talked about how Willamette’s size has its advantages. "I think at a small school we have relationships already because we work closely together,” says Hugmeyer. “If someone I’m working with has a need, and let’s say they need to relocate to a different residence hall, but they’re not interested in pursuing a misconduct report. And so they will come and they will work with me and I will make arrangements with [Director of Housing] Scott [Etherton] and because we have this ongoing relationship and rapport, I can just call him up and be like ‘Hey… I need to know what the availability is in Baxter, I need to get a student in there. Help.’ That type of thing, and we make it happen.”

After former Title IX Coordinator Jade Aguilar left, Willamette University hired Darci Heroy as its Interim Coordinator, and is searching for a permanent Coordinator. For Hugmeyer, an ideal coordinator would focus on prevention. “I believe we have a lot of solid processes and mechanisms for response,” said Hugmeyer, “We are good at the response and the process, but not so much on the prevention, which ties into the role of a Title IX coordinator, having to be responsible for campus climate and what that culture of respect and inclusivity and equality looks like.”

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