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Virtual BAVO panel sheds light on how the 2020 election will affect Title IX

| Thursday, October 15, 2020

Saint Mary’s hosted a virtual discussion titled “How Voting Impacts Title IX,” co-sponsored by the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO), the Title IX Office and the Office for Civic and Social Engagement (OCSE), Wednesday.

Senior Elizabeth Day, the BAVO Event and Campaigns Chair, moderated the talk between Title IX Office advisor Dr. James Gillespie, political science professor Marc Belanger and OSCE director Rebekah Go.

Gillespie began the conversation by explaining what Title IX is and how its coverage adapts to each presidential administration based on how the law is interpreted.

“Title IX covers sexual discrimination and assault on college campuses,” Gillespie said. “There is huge leeway on how the executive branch can interpret laws like Title IX. The Obama administration expanded its scope [while] the current administration made Title IX less victim friendly.”

Belanger added to Gillespie’s point by speaking about how far Title IX has come since it was first established.

“I had never heard of the term ‘sexual harassment’ before Title IX,” Belanger said. “[Title IX] is an achievement of the women’s movement.”

Once Title IX adaptations are embedded in the Department of Education, however, they are very difficult to change in the future, he said.

Go brought up the difference between law and policy, and emphasized the importance of knowing the distinction between the two. She referred to a major change the Trump administration recently made to Title IX, giving universities the option to implement the preponderance of evidence or reasonable doubt standard in examining allegations.

Gillespie offered a further explanation, stating that preponderance of evidence standard is meant to support victims who make accusations, while the reasonable doubt standard makes it more difficult to prove wrongdoing. The Trump administration changed the definition of harassment from “creating a hostile environment” to “severe and pervasive” actions, he added, a major shift away from the previous definition.

Belanger noted another change from the Trump administration, which requires the victim to face their accuser when they give testimony against them. He claims this change will allow perpetuators to use the victim’s trauma to their advantage.

Gillespie echoed Belanger’s statement, saying the Department of Education is predicting sexual misconduct cases will drop by 39% because of these changes. This is problematic, he said, as many victims will not want to report sexual misconduct if they do not wish to face their accuser during the proceedings.

Gillespie also reminded students that the College is equipped to support them with resources and guidance if they choose to use them.

“We are on your side here,“ he said.

Since leaders on the national and local level have influence on how Title IX is carried out, Go encouraged the audience to pay attention to candidates in all elections.

Belanger reiterated this point, citing how Title IX is now being used to discriminate against the LBGTQ community. While political apathy can be a result of a broken system, he said, voters need to elect leaders who share their opinions if they want to fix it.

“Elections matter and there’s a lot of issues in this one,” Belanger said. “You need to elect people you agree with.”

Go echoed this sentiment, saying politicians create change that affects generations. Although there are many obstacles to voting today, she believes it is necessary in order to make people feel less disenfranchised. By learning to participate civil discourse, individuals can gain an understanding of others around them rather than simply attacking them for having a different opinion, she added.

Gillespie spoke to Go’s idea and said everyone deserves respect and to avoid picking fights with those who those who want to argue.

“Respect is universal across cultures … Some people love to argue,” he said. “Avoid picking battles with them.”

Go ended the conversation by urging students to submit absentee ballots this week to avoid delays in the postal service, and to not feel discouraged if there are not official results on election night.

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a junior at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature & writing and secondary education with a minor in theatre. She currently serves as Saint Mary's News Editor.

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