Arizona State University is maintaining its current sexual assault policies following a recent announcement from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind former President Barack Obama’s sexual assault guidelines.
On Sept. 22 DeVos rescinded the Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letter which dictated university sexual assault policies since it was released in 2011. DeVos issued new interim guidelines, but ASU is maintaining current policies until DeVos officially changes federal guidelines.
“ASU has not changed its policies regarding the adjudication of sexual assault cases,” the university said in a statement. “The university will review the Department of Education’s official recommendations when they are released. At no time will the university waiver in its commitment to maintaining a safe educational environment free of discrimination for all students.”
Among the most notable changes issued in the interim guidelines is the higher burden of proof universities can now use in disciplinary proceedings relating to sexual assault. The Obama-era policies required “preponderance of evidence” or “more likely than not,” which is a low level of proof. Under the new guidelines schools can opt to use “clear and convincing evidence,” a much higher standard of proof.
If the higher burden of proof were implemented in the new federal guidelines it could drastically change how ASU handles disciplinary action in future sexual assault cases.
“Hypothetically speaking if that were to happen it would dramatically change disciplinary policy,” said Craig Allen, chair of the University Hearing Board and associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College on ASU’s Downtown Campus. “There have been numerous cases that have been very close where both sides have come up with nearly equally persuasive arguments and under the ‘preponderance of evidence’ it’s 50 percent and a feather, so all it would take would be a comma moved out of place or the shifting of one phrase and it could throw the decision one way or another.”
Allen said under a standard like “clear and convincing evidence” the university would have to go much further to prove sexual misconduct and the accused would have less difficulty defending themselves.
Sophomore journalism student Samantha Morse said she has been raped twice, including recently as four months ago. She is worried this higher burden of proof could discourage sexual assault victims from coming forward.
“I think we’re going to see a huge drop in the number of cases brought forward,” Morse said. “Not because there’s an actual curve and cases have stopped, but because people aren’t coming forward. They’re suffering alone in this instead of seeking the help from people who can actually give it to them properly.”
Allen, however, said it was still too early to determine if this would be the case because many victims do not know what the standards are until they experience sexual assault and have already filed a report with the university.
Jade Yeban, Undergraduate Student Government Downtown Vice President of Services and member of the Sun Devil Support Network, also said it was still too early to determine the long-term effect new guidelines could have on ASU policies.
“We don’t really know technically what this means,” Yeban said. “It’s still really hard and difficult to tell. We’re still going to push to support our students in any way that we can but we don’t really know what the impact is yet.”
The Sun Devil Support Network is a group of peer advocates who undergo training to provide support to victims of sexual assault by listening to these students and helping connect them with resources. ASU also offers services to sexual assault victims through ASU police, counseling, health services and a 24-hour hotline.
Yeban said USGD is working on understanding the new guidelines and is continuing to spread the word about ASU’s sexual assault services so students know what to do if they experience sexual violence.
“It’s a serious issue and a lot of times it’s an issue students don’t care about unless they’re going through it or know a friend going through it, which shouldn’t be the case,” Yeban said. “This is something that should be on everyone’s radar all the time. So, it’s really important we have collaborative events and talk to people where this is their specialty.”
Morse said ASU’s resources were a great help to her and that she hopes ASU continues to provide quality support regardless of how the guidelines change.
“I really want to believe that ASU is going to keep giving this same standard of care to everyone who comes to them,” Morse said. “I’m just worried it’s going to decrease who gets to come to them.”
Contact the reporter at Stephanie.M.Morse@asu.edu.