The Red Whistle Brigade, an organization run by the Women and Gender Advocacy Center at Colorado State University, was on the Plaza the week of Sept 11. to show support for guidelines put forth during President Barrack Obama’s administration.
Their demonstration was in response to Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ announcement to rescind Obama’s “Dear Colleagues” guidelines, which was a directive by the Office for Civil Rights for federally-funded colleges to use a preponderance of evidence in sexual assault cases for the standard of proof.
“Betsy Devos is sending a clear message to survivors of interpersonal violence, one that they are no longer taken as a priority by the administration or by universities,” brigade volunteer Whitney Gustafson wrote in an email to the Collegian. “False rhetoric (around high rates of false accusing) makes survivors feel as if they will not be believed or taken seriously, which is sadly the case far too often.”
The main controversial issue in the Obama-era guidelines is the requirement that schools carry out investigations based on preponderance of evidence. Emphasis is placed on quantitative evidence over qualitative; in theory, evidence provided by a seemingly more validated source could outweigh evidence provided by six other, less validated sources.
Gustafson wrote she thinks the rule is fitting in sexual assault cases.
“A lot of folks think that campuses punish accused perpetrators right away, and this isn’t true,” Gustafson said. “(Following the investigation process and hearings from both sides,) when perpetrators are found guilty, the punishments they face are things like no contact orders or expulsion, in order words, relatively low stakes compared to the punishments that one might face in the criminal courts.”
A lot of folks think that campuses punish accused perpetrators right away, and this isn’t true.”Whitney Gustafson, Red Whistle Brigade volunteer
It makes sense the preponderance of evidence for a sexual assault case on campus is lower than the criminal courts, Gustafson wrote.
The effects beyond abolishing the preponderance of evidence rule are unclear if the “Dear Colleagues” letter is repealed. It is the message the repeal sends, however, that concerns the brigade.
“She wants (potential) perpetrators taken more seriously than she perceives that they are being taken on campus at this point,” said Hannah Manning, brigade volunteer. “We have statistics that indicate that while false reports of sexual assault do happen, and that’s not good at all, they’re really rare. So, we should be taking the stories of survivors seriously.”
Not only will the the rollback replace the preponderance of evidence clause, but it will also limit what colleges can do for victims who have not proved their perpetrator guilty.
“I’m worried that this could mean survivors or alleged victims are awarded less protections on college campuses and colleges can do less to keep victims safe, but I don’t know the specific ways that’s going to play out,” Manning said.
Manning and Gustafon urge the community to stay involved going forward. Students can utilize The Red Whistle Brigade, along with the Women and Gender Advocacy Center on campus.
“I think it’s really important to stay informed with what’s happening with Title IX and sexual assault on campuses,” Manning said. “I think it’s important to believe and support survivors, especially when they’re receiving less support from the government and culture.”
Mackenzie Beaulieu can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Mack_enzie_James.