Eric Thayer / The New York Times

The Federal Department of Education released a new set of proposed regulations, which will include a more narrow definition of sexual harassment and permission for party adviser cross-examination.

December 4, 2018

Proposed Department of Education Regulations Narrow Sexual Harassment Definition

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The Federal Department of Education proposed a new set of regulations regarding Title IX procedures — the guidelines that shape policy regarding sexual harassment on college campuses — last month. Among the 144-page document is a proposal to narrow the definition of sexual harassment and permit cross-examination by parties’ advisors.

Currently, the University follows Policy 6.4, which it uses as the umbrella policy to deal with incidents of bias, discrimination and sexual misconduct.

The proposed regulations look to refine the definition of sexual harassment to narrower terms than those of Policy 6.4. Under the proposed regulations, sexual harassment is conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access.” The current definition of sexual misconduct encapsulates “unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature designated as prohibited conduct.”

“Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote in a press release last month.

Title IX coordinator Chantelle Cleary did not say what the University would do if the proposed regulations were codified as written.

“Until we have the final regulations, it’s just not appropriate to say what’s going to happen,” Cleary said.

Still, Cleary did indicate that the University would review all implemented regulations immediately after they were finalized.

“What I can say is that these regulations set a floor, and not a ceiling,” the former special victims prosecutor said. “And so if the regulations change the definition of sexual harassment, for example, that does not mean that Cornell has to alter … our definition of sexual harassment.”

Luke Bianco ’19 and Sabrina Sugano ’19, co-presidents of Consent Ed, emphasized that the impact of the regulations, even if they don’t affect the campus directly, would still be felt by students.

“There are still students, campuses and organizations that will be affected by this,” Bianco said. “We’re in a fortunate enough place where we can be confident. There are groups across the country that likely are not in that place.”

The students also expressed hope that their peers would stand up and fight any changes that might be implemented at Cornell.

“If something were to try to change on our campus, it would be important for students to take an active stance against that,” Bianco said.

Changing policies is a complex process. The most recent changes to University policy, which resulted in Policy 6.4, were part of a process that spread over several years until its full implementation, according to Cleary. If there were future changes to the policy, the process would involve the “shared government system,” according to Cleary, including the Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the Faculty Senate and the Employee Assembly.

Currently, there is a commenting platform open online, where individuals can express their thoughts on the proposed regulations.

Cleary urged students to use their voices to express support or concern and noted that after the regulations were finalized, this opportunity would not arise again.

“This is a perfect time where members of our community should be, if they have strong opinions, using their voice,” Cleary said. “That’s what is being asked for by the government now.”

The comment period — which will be open while most Cornellians are taking finals or not at school — concludes on January 28, 2019.