Headline Highlight: Tampa Bay Times Calls for Balance in Title IX
December 5, 2017  Jake Goldberg

HH: Tampa Bay Times Calls for Balance in Title IX

On December 4th, the Tampa Bay Times published an editorial entitled: “Editorial: USF should revisit approach to Title IX protections.” The piece discusses a recent lawsuit that was filed against the University of South Florida (USF).

Local reporting by WFLA Web Staff has recently written the following on this matter as well:

A USF doctoral student who says she was sexually assaulted by one of her peers claims she’s being forced to attend class with her attacker despite reports filed against him.

According to a complaint filed on behalf of Samantha Garrett, the University of South Florida violated Title IX protections by forcing Garrett to have regular contact with Andrew Thurston, her alleged attacker.

In the complaint, Garrett also claims USF tried to silence one of her professors who was concerned over their handling of the situation.

As the Tampa Bay Times explains, Title IX prohibits institutions of education which receive federal funds, such as USF, from denying equal access to their educational opportunities as a result of sex based discrimination. As a means of ensuring equal access, colleges and universities offer health and wellbeing services for students who may become victims of sexual misconduct as well as disciplinary proceedings to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit, as discussed by the Tampa Bay Times, alleges that a violation of this prohibition took place here:

The sanctions Thurston accepted, according to the lawsuit, were a deferred suspension through May 2018, allowing him to continue his studies on campus; two meetings with a university official; and a request that he “refrain from making contact” with Garrett. So Garrett may continue facing Thurston in parking lots, campus buildings and classrooms. As a result, she says, she has experienced panic attacks and dropped three classes. That does not sound like equal access to education.

It’s important to also note, as the Tampa Bay Times does, that “Thurston was given the choice of a formal hearing or accepting sanctions. He chose the sanctions, which his attorney says does not equate to admitting responsibility. He denies the allegations and has not been charged with a crime.”

Unlike many articles that I have come across, this editorial takes a holistic approach to discussing flaws in the current implementation of Title IX’s requirements for colleges.

An overview of the recent news headlines regarding Title IX and sexual misconduct at institutions of higher education will yield to any honest observer that too many schools are inefficient at both properly punishing those who have committed acts of misconduct while simultaneously affording procedural protections to both parties involved in an investigation so as to ensure that justice is being brought to bear properly upon the right people.

The Tampa Bay Times concluded its editorial by providing a plea for this type of balance:

It’s possible, of course, for the pendulum to swing too far the other way. During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines … Victims’ rights groups cheered, but there was legitimate concern that the rights of accused students were not being adequately protected. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed revisions … What she has proposed is reasonable and will undergo rigorous review, factoring in public comment, before taking effect.

Universities have an obligation to protect equal access to education. It’s no easy charge, and USF should constantly strive to be responsive, decisive and fair. (Emphasis added)