In an effort to comply with new federal regulations on Title IX, the Executive Committee of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors (BOV) at a special session on Aug. 13 adopted new Title IX policies that were developed by a work group with university-wide representation. The board did so while remaining committed to upholding Virginia Tech's Principles of Community and maintaining a campus environment that is safe and inclusive for every member of the university community.

“Virginia Tech cares deeply for and seeks to support all members of our community. That foundational commitment will never change,” said Kelly Oaks, assistant vice president for equity and accessibility. “We do not tolerate sexual harassment or violence that disrupts a student’s or employee’s ability to work, learn, grow, and thrive.”

On May 6, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued new regulations that govern how educational institutions handle reports of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Among the required changes are:

  • A new definition of what constitutes sexual harassment, as well as a new limit on the geographic jurisdiction of the Title IX process, to include conduct that occurs within the U.S. and on-campus, with limited jurisdiction over off-campus conduct that occurs where the university or a recognized student organization has substantial control. 
  • Supportive measures must be made available to reporting parties whether or not the underlying conduct meets the definition or jurisdictional scope defined in the regulations, and regardless of a reporting party’s decision to make a formal complaint.
  • The regulations map out a specific, prescribed grievance procedure for resolving complaints that includes live hearings for both students and employees, the opportunity for the parties’ advisors to perform direct cross-examination of the other party and witnesses, and the opportunity to appeal the outcome. The university is obligated to provide advisors to perform cross-examination for parties who do not have one.

To effectively address these wide-ranging regulatory changes, President Tim Sands appointed a Title IX Policy Work Group to review the changes and propose recommendations. Led by Katie Polidoro, the university’s Title IX coordinator, the work group developed a comprehensive set of recommendations over the summer months. To ensure that community voices were heard, representatives from student and employee leadership organizations were identified to serve on the work group.

“Their valuable perspectives and input are reflected in the changes,” Polidoro said.

At the Aug. 13 special session, the BOV Executive Committee adopted the following changes: 

  • A Title IX Sexual Harassment Policy, Policy 1026, which is now separated from the university’s existing non-discrimination policy, Policy 1025.
  • Procedures for investigating and resolving Title IX sexual harassment complaints that comply with the federal requirements (see Policy 1026).
  • Reaffirmation of our institutional commitment to address, via Policy 1025 and the Student Code of Conduct, all categories of sexual harassment and sexual violence, including those that occur off-campus, that are not included in the Department of Education’s new definition of Title IX sexual harassment.
  • To facilitate reporting, most employees who regularly interact with students or supervise others will continue to be required to report incidents they are aware of to the Title IX coordinator. 

“The changes primarily mean that Virginia Tech will address off-campus cases through Policy 1025 and the Student Code of Conduct instead of through Title IX,” Polidoro said. Even so, she underscored that the university’s commitment to address all reports of sexual violence and harassment remains as strong as ever.

And while the revised federal regulations set a baseline for compliance, Virginia Tech intends to continue examining its practices to rise above the baseline.

“Sexual violence and harassment can devastate those who experience it,” Polidoro said. “It also leaves a mark on the community we call home. Virginia Tech cannot accept violence and harassment. We must respond to individual incidents with care and compassion, and we must seek out ways that we can build a culture within our community to prevent violence from happening.”

In recent years, members of the university have expressed their concerns about gender-based issues on campus. In the 2019-20 academic year, prior to the revised federal guidance, the university took a number of steps to enhance its Title IX process, including:

  • Shortening the length of investigations by increasing case management and personnel.
  • Hosting a Student Title IX Advisory Council to gain insight on the process.
  • Redesigning stopabuse.vt.edu.
  • Adding language to the Title IX investigation procedures and the Student Code of Conduct granting amnesty for alcohol and substance abuse when reporting gender-based harassment and violence.
  • Bringing nationally recognized experts to campus to train personnel and offering regular training to administrators who interact with Title IX reports.
  • Establishing the End Sexual Violence Committee, a multidisciplinary group of staff, faculty, and students, to listen to and address campus concerns.

“We strive to be accountable and transparent to our community,” Polidoro said.  “We have been faced with hard and humbling questions about both how our response works and our efforts to prevent gender-based violence on campus.” 

Given the short timeframe for implementing the federal regulations, university leaders acted on the required elements while planning to seek further input from students and employees. “We recognize that these changes may be confusing and difficult for members of our community,” Oaks said. “We know that there is more work to be done to be sure that our responses and processes are the best they can be for each community member. You can expect to see and hear about this issue throughout the coming year.”

“This remains an ongoing process,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Dwayne Pinkney. “I want to commend the Title IX Policy Work Group for its effort. We take this responsibility seriously and will seek to be accountable and transparent with our community.”

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