ASBMB weighs in on Title IX updates

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Last month, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology made five recommendations to the US Department of Education in response to the agency’s regulatory proposal regarding sexual harassment and Title IX protections.

Recommendations included (1) a better definition of sexual harassment, (2) the elimination of the requirement for live cross-examinations in harassment and assault cases, (3) the explicit protection of lesbian, gay , bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and other non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people, (4) affirming protections against multiple forms of retaliation, and (5) making explicit the protections for all postdocs .

Protections and policy

Title IX is a 1972 civil rights law that protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in educational institutions, programs, or activities that receive federal funding. Over the decades, the law has given many women and girls equal access to education and extracurricular activities, such as sports. But in recent years, Title IX protections have come and gone, depending on who has been in the White House.

In 2011, the Obama administration provided guidance urging colleges and universities to address sexual harassment and assault on campus. However, the Trump administration has removed many protections. For example, then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and removed protections for the accused, resulting in harmful experiences for survivors, such as counter-attacks. mandatory live interrogations.

During President Joe Biden’s first month in office, he issued an executive order to prevent and address discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in federal service. Two months later, he issued an executive order on discrimination specifically in educational settings.

That summer, the ASBMB urged the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to clearly define sexual harassment, eliminate mandatory live cross-examinations, and change the standard of proof in Title IX cases. to match other civil cases using a preponderance of the evidence.

This summer, the agency published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, to which the ASBMB responded with the following suggestions, closely following those it published in June 2021.

Better define sexual harassment

The company expressed support for the agency’s new definition of sexual harassment: “gender discrimination, including related to a hostile environment in the recipient’s education program or activity, as well as discrimination based on gender stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation and gender identity.

While the Trump administration’s definition had three categories – sexual assault, quid pro quo and sexual harassment – the new definition ensures that all forms of sexual harassment and sexual violence are covered.

Remove the requirement for cross-examinations

The company expressed support for the agency’s new language making live cross-examinations of victims of harassment and assault optional. The company also urged officials to allow institutions to pursue the single investigator model when needed, as a direct confrontation between accuser and accused is best avoided and is common practice. in civil rights cases.

Make LGBTQIA+ protections explicit

The company expressed support for proposed language making LGBTQIA+ people explicitly protected under Title IX. “By protecting LGBTQIA+ students, the department will create safer and less hostile learning environments not just for LGBTQIA+ students but for all students, resulting in more optimal learning outcomes,” wrote the society.

Clarify and broaden the concept of reprisals

The company expressed support for a proposed amendment that would protect victims of harassment and assault from multiple forms of retaliation, not just retaliation from supervisors. “While it is beneficial to keep the language broad so that multiple situations may apply,” the company wrote, “explaining different forms of retaliation is essential to maintaining communication between the department and Title IX protected persons. Additionally, updating Title IX to specifically state the prohibition against peer retaliation is important to ensure that more victims feel safe to come forward.

Include protections for postdoctoral fellows

The company urged the agency to explicitly extend protections to people in postdoctoral positions. Currently, students, employees, and persons participating or attempting to participate in an educational program or activity may file grievances under Title IX; however, there is no specific wording to protect postdocs, who sometimes do not qualify as employees. The company recommended that the agency include direct language in all amendments, including those that ban discrimination against pregnant women, to protect those in postdoctoral positions.

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