AU launches new Office of Equity and Title IX as federal rules change
New Title IX rules give more rights to the accused
AU launched its new Office of Equity and Title IX on Friday, just as updates on the sex discrimination law went into effect, according to an email Seth Grossman, the president’s chief of staff, wrote to the University community.
Grossman wrote that the office will lead AU’s fight against sexual assault, harrasment and discrimination, and it will serve as a centralized location for members of the community to file complaints and seek support, in contrast to the decentralized system AU previously employed. The goal is to increase accountability, Grossman wrote, and the office will host mandatory training this fall for students, faculty and staff to widen its impact.
The federal changes to Title IX impact AU’s handling of complaints as well, Grossman wrote. The Education Department narrowed the definition of sexual harassment under Title IX, and now requires a live hearing as part the formal complaint process. To avoid losing federal funding, AU will comply with these changes, Grossman wrote.
“Our efforts to combat racism, sexual assault, and discrimination are part of our larger inclusive excellence journey,” Grossman wrote. “These are challenging issues to confront, but we are committed to creating open dialogue, supporting our community, and making progress on this path as AU lives up to its core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Under the new Title IX rules, universities are no longer required to investigate sexual misconduct that occurs outside of “an education program or activity,” the updated regulation states. While colleges may choose to investigate outside activities on their own, the process is no longer part of the federal law. In AU’s case, that means it falls under the University’s new Discrimination and Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct Policy.
In a webinar on Thursday, Stephen Vaughan, the interim Title IX program officer, said that the University is taking advantage of the new regulation’s “flexibility” to strengthen its own rules, including the new non-Title IX misconduct code.
In July, after AU announced the creation of the equity and Title IX office, some student leaders said the University could do more to support victims, The Eagle previously reported. Grossman said that the creation of the new office was not in direct response to student outcry concerning allegations of sexual misconduct on social media this summer.
“The office is in response to feedback we’ve gotten over a long period of time about complaints about how complaints related to Title IX and instances of racial discrimination have been handled,” Grossman said in July. “This is critical and has informed the work of the office.”
The University is also searching for a new assistant vice president for equity and Title IX to lead the office, Grossman wrote Friday. Vaughan will continue in his role until that point.
Kelsey Carolan contributed reporting to this article.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.