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Preparing for Title IX reform

Northwestern officials and students consider proposed changes to federal policy on sexual misconduct

Working in partnership to provide deeper understanding of federal regulations on Title IX, Northwestern University officials met with students for a panel event Jan. 11 to discuss proposed changes and pave the way for students to voice their concerns.

Changes to the law could have a profound effect on students who report or are accused of sexual misconduct and institutional liability, participants said.

Taking part in the panel, Associate Vice President for Equity Sarah K. Wake hailed the event as a great collaboration.

"Northwestern students are thoughtfully engaged on this very important topic," Wake said. "They organized a great event with the dual purpose of education and action, which the Office of Equity gladly supported."

Northwestern shares the Department of Education's commitment to providing a fair process to all parties.

Panelists and students met during the 60-day comment window in which the public is invited to share feedback with the U.S. Department of Education. That period ends Jan. 28. Students then took part in a comment-writing workshop led by Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and Life Span, a Chicago-area organization that serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Wake also noted several positive aspects to the proposed new regulations.

"The University shares the Department of Education's stated commitment to providing a fair process to all parties involved in the sexual misconduct investigation and adjudication process," she said. "However, certain portions of the proposed regulations appear potentially harmful to any student involved in a sexual misconduct investigation. The proposed regulations also seemingly favor students with the means to hire an attorney to guide them through the process."

The event was hosted by Associated Student Government (ASG), the Office of Equity, the Center for Awareness, Response and Education (CARE), Norris University Center, Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE) and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault.

"The panelists brought a perfect balance of history, practical policy knowledge and professional perspectives," said Emily Ash, ASG president and one of the event's organizers. "They sparked an empowering session in which I truly feel students felt both informed and supported in expressing how these guideline changes could impact their experiences at Northwestern and beyond."

The University is considering its own response to the proposed changes as part of the public comment process.

About the panelists

Carrie Wachter is assistant director of sexual violence response services and advocacy at CARE. She provides confidential advocacy and support services for all Northwestern students, and she works to create an empathic and appropriate response to sexual violence throughout campus.

Deborah Tuerkheimer is the Class of 1940 Research Professor of Law. She joined the Northwestern Law faculty in 2014 after serving as a professor at DePaul University College of Law since 2009 and the University of Maine School of Law since 2002. She teaches and writes in the areas of criminal law, evidence and feminist legal theory.

Kate Harrington-Rosen is an equity outreach and education specialist in the Office of Equity. She comes to Northwestern after nine years in social services, providing direct service to clients and facilitating community trainings. She is responsible for developing and delivering training for students, faculty and staff on Title IX policy and procedures, as well as tracking and assessing education and prevention efforts across campus.

Jason McKean is senior equity specialist in the Office of Equity. He is responsible for investigating complaints related to sexual misconduct, stalking, dating and domestic violence and other discrimination and harassment concerns. He previously worked in the Office of Student Conduct, where he oversaw recruitment and training for faculty, staff and student panel members in the University Hearing and Appeals System.

Sarah K. Wake joined the Office of General Counsel in 2017. She is currently associate general counsel and associate vice president for equity. Prior to joining Northwestern, she worked at the University of Chicago as associate provost and director of the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs, Title IX coordinator, Section 504/Americans With Disabilities Act coordinator and affirmative action officer.