This Fall Could be One of the Toughest for HBCUs on Rape, Transgender Student Access

Sweeping changes in Title IX policy and compliance ushered in by the Trump Administration are likely to be gutted in a rewriting of the rules by the Biden Administration in the coming months, and historically Black institutions would be well-served in paying attention to the changes.

Inside Higher Ed reports on the public comment period of the all-important non-discrimination policy area, and the particular emphasis on sexual assault adjudication and transgender student sports access.

Those regulations made several notable changes to higher education Title IX practices, such as requiring institutions to allow live hearings and cross-examinations and limiting the scope of off-campus misconduct complaints colleges must act upon to those that occurred in locations used by officially recognized student organizations.
The latter change received pushback during the hearing from separate comments given by two former students, Delaney Davis and Sara Jane Ross, who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. At colleges like UT Austin, many students live off campus, leaving them without protection from sexual misconduct, said Davis.
“Off-campus sexual misconduct is no less disruptive to a student’s education than misconduct that occurs on campus,” Davis said. “What is the point of even having Title IX if we are picking and choosing which survivors are worthy of protection?”
Ross said that if her Title IX claim had been processed under the new rule, it wouldn’t have been investigated, because she was raped off campus.
“It’s those off-campus places — like apartments, parties, bars, sporting events and frat houses — that are hot spots for abuse,” Ross said. “Allowing universities to ignore over 80 percent of conduct simply because it didn’t occur on campus is neglectful.”

If the Department of Education reverts back to Obama-era policy on mandated sexual assault reporting and on-campus hearings for alleged crimes, it could result in a return to pressurized and expensive requirements for investigating and judging these cases. In 2014, schools nationwide cried foul on the administration’s demands that, if not met, resulted in public disclosure and investigations.

Two years later, the policy side of the Obama Administration’s approach to ending campus rape was accompanied by an avalanche of coverage of rape culture at Morehouse College, Spelman College, and North Carolina A&T State University, among other institutions. As students return to in-person instruction, on and off-campus rape and assaults will again emerge as a significant area of student affairs.

Does this mean that certain CARES Act funding should be allocated to additional personnel in judicial affairs, campus police, or security technology upgrades? In the way that Black colleges have lobbied for attention to deferred maintenance, food insecurity, and support for endowments, should they also be asking the government for help in managing what is sure to be an increase in campus crime or alleged assault?

Or will compliance be cover enough?

The same preparation must be considered in supporting transgender students playing sports, who if recent coverage is to be believed, will likely be part of the growing pool of students interested in coming to HBCUs this fall. Forget the potential questions for school and conference guidelines on participation in men’s and women’s sports, student housing, and other inquiries — will HBCUs have the counseling and student activities resources in place to support these students and others on campus?

It is not enough to say “Happy Pride Month,” especially given US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s messaging on transgender support in collegiate sports. What are the new rules on gender-based scholarships, or fraternity and sorority membership?

These questions have simply been whispers in the HBCU community in the years leading up to a global social awakening on race, sexuality, gender, and identity. Now every campus is a global campus, every voice has the potential to reach millions, and every policy miscalculation could break a campus administration.

These questions need answers sooner than later, and it would be nice if the discussion involved the students and communities in focus as a measure of collaboration instead of reaction during moments of crisis.