Education

Some SoCal colleges commit to Obama-era sexual assault reforms after Trump admin rollback

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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On Friday, after the U.S. Department of Education announced new suggested policies for investigating campus sexual assault, some Southern California colleges said they would not take the federal suggestions.

“We’re not rolling back, we’re dedicated to [reforms the school is already making],” said Miriam Feldblum, vice president for student affairs at Pomona College.

Among other things, the new guidelines recommend colleges allow two-party resolution of allegations, rescind a 60-day deadline to resolve cases, give commenting rights to the accused, and promote the use of the “clear and convincing ” standard to weigh evidence to determine if a sexual assault has taken place. That standard is seen as tougher when weighing sexual assault evidence.

The guidelines appear to highlight that California colleges and state leaders are adopting more aggressive policies to improve investigation of sexual assault on campus.

Campus sexual assault became a topic of national discussion several years ago as college students across the nation submitted complaints to federal authorities that the policies to investigate rape and other attacks on their campuses were inadequate and that campus administrators were doing little to listen to student complaints.

By one count, there are currently 360 open investigations of campus sexual assault policies.

In 2011, former President Obama issued a list of recommendations to reform policies. The federal action rescinds that list of recommendations.

“If you are not in a state that’s already taking action to insure greater protections and standards for investigating and adjudicating and responding to sexual assault or if you’re in a campus that may not be fully committed to responding to sexual violence on campus then these guidelines are cause for concern,” Feldblum said.

She said her campus is keeping the Obama-era recommendation to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to evaluate evidence in a sexual assault investigation.

The U.S. Department of Education said the new recommendations are meant to help campuses by giving them more flexibility.

"This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly," said Secretary Betsy DeVos in a written statement.

After the announcement the University of California said the new guidelines will not affect its sexual assault policies.

While the new guidelines may not result in a rollback at Pomona College, the U.C. campuses and others, California college administrators worry that the guidelines will create an environment in which students will reluctant to report sexual assault.

“It’s hard enough for victims to come forward and do this and it would really be a horrible consequence of this that that would become harder,” said CalArts President Ravi Rajan

Rajan and administrators other college administrators say sexual assault training of students and employees are leading to an improved environment in which students are changing the way they talk to each other about consent in order to prevent unwanted sexual advances.