University of Tennessee: Adopt a Title IX that Upholds Civil Rights and Protects Survivors

University of Tennessee: Adopt a Title IX that Upholds Civil Rights and Protects Survivors

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UT Knox Needs IX started this petition to University of Tennessee

To Chancellor Plowman and Ms. Blamey, 

The Biden Administration has announced plans to undo the Trump Administration’s attack of student survivors and to create a Title IX rule that supports the rights of all students. The not-so-good news? The Department of Education plans to release those changes in May 2022 –– nearly a year from now. 

Students are about to enter a double redzone where more than 50% of all sexual assaults will occur between the day first year students arrive on campus and the day students depart for Thanksgiving Break. Because of the shift back to in-person classes this fall, experts predict that sophomores - who have not yet stepped on campus - will experience college as freshmen do, which means that the population of those at risk will double.

Despite national advocates pressuring the Biden Administration to expedite the process of undoing DeVos’s Title IX rule, survivors do not have time to wait. The University of Tennessee must take immediate action to ensure that our Title IX policies are robust and trauma-informed so as to guarantee that no survivor has to sacrifice their education for their abuser. With our students at a heightened risk this year, it is our responsibility to take action to ensure their safety and success.

We, as students and community members, are calling on the University of Tennessee to uphold the civil rights of all students on campus. Multiple sections within the DeVos rule give schools discretion to choose how policies are implemented. We urge the University of Tennessee to commit to taking sexual violence seriously by choosing the options that would create the least harm for student survivors. Below, we have listed our call to the University, which asks for your clear commitment to maintaining the safest and fairest policies that are legal under the Final Rule.

We, students, survivors, and alumni of the University of Tennessee, call on the University to commit to:

  1. Guaranteeing all students robust cost-free academic accommodations, all of which must be clearly listed on the University of Tennessee website. The Title IX office should ensure that all accommodations are respected and adhered to by UT faculty and staff. Accommodations that should be available and transparent for students and the public include, but are not limited to: Academic accommodations, such as access to tutoring, extensions on assignments; excused absences from class and additional time for exams; campus escorts; no contact orders; Persona Non Grata letter; mental health and disability services; student loan counseling; access to tuition waivers throughout the semester and while on a leave of absence or period of unenrollment from the school; and lease-breaking assistance for both school-owned and non-school-owned housing via informational guidance and direct support for students who have to leave their housing due to violence
  2. Hosting continuous and thorough trauma informed trainings for all faculty and staff on how to best respond to sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence. Said training should include, but are not limited to, residential assistants, professors, administrators, and UTPD. Survivors should not have to be re-traumatized while attempting to seek support from University of Tennessee employees. 
  3. Maintaining a confidential rape crisis center on campus so as to ensure 24/7 access to a confidential crisis advocate. Establishing an on-campus rape crisis center ensures that the survivor is not forced to leave campus and has quick and immediate access to an advocate should they need one.  
  4. Ensuring the Title IX office works in collaboration with disability services to provide disability accommodations throughout Title IX procedures.    
  5. Providing access to counsel and free legal consultations for students navigating the disciplinary process. In order to address the financial power imbalance that often presents itself when one party has the ability to hire a lawyer, all students should be provided with access to counsel and legal consultations by the University. 
  6. Allowing a personal support person, either in addition to or in lieu of an attorney, to assist and advise parties throughout the disciplinary process. 
  7. Maintaining a time limit of sixty calendar days for the completion of sexual misconduct, harassment, and discrimination cases, with exceptions only for substantial extenuating circumstances. Lengthy investigations are emotionally taxing on survivors, often causing students to drop-out before their cases are complete. Drawn-out timelines are bad for complainants and respondents alike, leaving them uncertain of where things stand with their schools.
  8. Ensuring that residential staff is adhering to amnesty policies that prevent students from being punished for violations of the student conduct code that come to light from a report of violence, such as underage drinking, illegal drug use, or consensual sexual activity. 
  9. Removing the involvement of campus police or school resource officers in sexual misconduct cases unless specifically requested by the survivor. Not all survivors are going to feel comfortable engaging with the police, resulting in many not reporting their case to the university at all. Removing campus police unless the survivor requests them guarantees that survivors will feel more comfortable engaging with the university following sexual violence
  10. Waiving scholarship requirements, such as maintaining a certain grade point average or remaining in a certain academic department or program, for student survivors whose education has been negatively impacted by violence. This allows survivors to be met with grace by the university on the basis of understanding that violence and trauma can have a negative impact on academic success. 
  11. Following the Department of Education’s rescinded 2016 guidance on protecting LGBTQ+ students in order to ensure all students have equal access to a safe learning environment, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. 
  12. Collecting and publishing annual data on disciplinary outcomes in all Title IX procedures, making the data anonymized and non-identifying. Data should include: The incidence and prevalence of sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking; Whether the perpetrator was a student and other contextual factors, such as whether force, incapacitation, or coercion was involved; If survivors reported gender-based harassment violence, to whom they reported, and what response the survivor may have received; The cost and/or impact of violence on survivors, such as costs associated with counseling, medical services, or housing changes, as well as any disabilities that may have resulted from experiencing gender-based violence or harassment; Community attitudes toward gender-based violence and harassment, including individuals’ willingness to intervene as a bystander; and community members’ perception of campus safety and confidence in the institution’s ability to appropriately address gender-based violence and harassment.

We call on the University to issue a written public statement declaring its commitment to these thirteen policies by November 1, 2021.

As dedicated members of this community, we believe in holding our institution to the highest standards. With a federal government that is failing students, it is up to institutions to assume leadership in defending our education by protecting our civil rights. We look forward to seeing the University of Tennessee issue its public statement in the coming days.

With Power, 

The Undersigned

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