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A&M scrambles to meet compliance for new Title IX rules by August

‘I have a lot of work to do,’ says A&M’s Title IX coordinator
Texas+A%26M+is+scrambling+to+implement+changes+for+the+new+Title+IX+regulations+by+Aug.+1%2C+with+officials+hoping+the+new+rules+will+improve+cases.+Some+victims+aren%E2%80%99t+so+hopeful%2C+however.+%28File+photo+by+Cameron+Johnson%2FThe+Battalion%29
Cameron Johnson
Texas A&M is scrambling to implement changes for the new Title IX regulations by Aug. 1, with officials hoping the new rules will improve cases. Some victims aren’t so hopeful, however. (File photo by Cameron Johnson/The Battalion)

After being stalled for two years, the Biden-Harris administration established new Title IX regulations. All public institutions, including Texas A&M, will implement the changes on their campuses by Aug. 1. 

Listed in a 1,577-page document, the new rules are extensive, but the main changes added legal protections for transgender and pregnant students, removed live-hearing and cross-examination requirements, archived mandatory reporting policies and changed the Title IX definition of sexual harassment from “unwelcomed verbal, visual or physical sexual conduct”  to “unwelcome sex-based conduct.”

Notable 2024 Title IX changes
New definition of sexual harassment
  • 2020:unwelcomed verbal, visual or physical sexual conduct”
  • 2024:unwelcome sex-based conduct”
New protections for LGBTQ+ students
  • 2020: No protections specified.
  • 2024: LGBTQ+ students cannot be discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.
Expanded protections for pregnant students, employees and applicants

New regulations strengthen requirements for schools to provide reasonable opportunities for employees and students who are pregnant, or related conditions.

  • Pregnant students will have more reasonable opportunities to make up classwork due to medically related absences.
  • Employers must allow for reasonable break times for lactation. Students and employees are both entitled to clean, private spaces for lactation.
Live hearings and cross-examinations
  • 2020: Complainants must complete a live hearing and cross-examination section as a part of the formal resolution process.
  • 2024: Complainants are no longer required to complete a live hearing and cross-examination section as a part of the formal resolution process.
Actionable complaints
  • 2020: Title IX offices require formal written complaints to take action.
  • 2024: Title IX offices can take action without a formal written complaint.

Republicans have slammed a new protection that was added to prohibit transgender students from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They argue it will interfere with laws relating to gender-assigned bathrooms and participation in athletics.

On April 29, Gov. Greg Abbott criticized the changes in a letter to President Joe Biden, saying Texas will not abide by the revisions. Texas joined a Republican-led lawsuit from almost a dozen states to challenge the policy on Monday, claiming the overhaul exceeds Biden’s authority as president.

“You have rewritten Title IX to force schools to treat boys as if they are girls and to accept every student’s self-declared gender identity,” Abbott’s letter reads. “I am instructing the Texas Education Agency to ignore your illegal dictate. Your rewrite of Title IX not only exceeds your constitutional authority, it also tramples laws that I signed to protect the integrity of women’s sports by prohibiting men from competing against female athletes.”

However, A&M’s Title IX office is proceeding with implementation, and according to its coordinator, is working hard to make these changes with help from the system Title IX coordinator and the Office of General Counsel.

 

Ensuring compliance by August

In a statement, A&M Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Smith said she anticipates a large workload to implement the new regulations by August. Smith said any incident that occurs before Aug. 1 will be resolved based on the prior 2020 regulations.

“My initial impression is that I have a lot of work to do,” Smith said. 

Smith said the new regulations will improve A&M’s Title IX process and, in some cases, make it easier and faster to resolve complaints. The 2024 regulations no longer require formal, written complaints for Title IX offices to take action — a 2020 regulation that Smith said delayed A&M’s ability to act.

“For example, the new regulations specifically authorize informal resolutions,” Smith said. “The informal resolution is focused on the parties’ needs and can involve discipline, written apologies, training and compensation for damaged property. An informal resolution can be completed in less than a week, whereas an investigation or hearing might take more than a semester.”

The majority of Title IX’s new rules focus on improving accommodations for individuals who need them. Smith said the updated regulations benefit pregnant students the most, expanding their opportunities to make up classwork due to medically related absences.

Rick Olshak serves as the director of Title IX and Student Conduct Compliance for the A&M University System and is a member of the advisory board for the Association of Title IX Administrators. 

“I’m appreciative of the pregnancy accommodations, in part because we spent so much time focusing just on sexual assault, and that’s not where our numbers are,” Olshak said. “There are other areas of civil rights that get ignored in the process. Whether it’s pregnancy under sex-based, accommodations for students with disabilities or it’s workers who need accommodations.”

 

Arguments continue after new changes

Olshak said the major change he sees is a return to things he believes shouldn’t have been changed.

“We’re talking about the definition of sex-based harassment, which, forever, we had agreed that Title IX matches the Title VII employment law,” Olshak said. “Then, under the Trump administration, they imposed sex-based discrimination.” 

When the proposed regulations were released in 2022, Olshak said he was shocked to see that a major part of them had not been included in the 2024 regulations.

“The Biden administration left out the most polarizing piece of the regulations, which is transgender participation in athletics,” Olshak said. “So, we were very disappointed when we heard the rumor that this part would be left out. But we also understood that it is April before the election.” 

As for the future of Title IX, Smith said in a written statement that she hopes to see consistent regulations:

I would love to see the US Congress enact a law that solidifies a university’s responsibilities with respect to Title IX allegations. It is expensive, and laborious and confusing to students when we change our resolution process every time a new president issues new regulations.”

— Jennifer Smith, Texas A&M Title IX Office coordinator

Olshak said the future of Title IX still needs to be improved by moving away from trying to make Title IX a political issue.

“Until the Trump administration, Title IX was never political, as Democrats and Republicans alike all agreed on the regulations,” Olshak said. “Now, it’s just gotten sucked into the culture war, and I want this to stop being toxic and political.”

Olshak said he would love to see everyone agree on how others should be treated equitably, regardless of gender, sexual preference, status or identity. “We don’t live in that world right now,” Olshak said.

 

Navigating past Title IX cases

However, these changes came too late for some, such as Class of 2023 graduate Michelle Arnold. While still attending A&M-Corpus Christi, Arnold said she was sexually assaulted while drunk by a male student in on-campus housing. 

“Eventually, he led me into his room, and then, the assault happened,” Arnold said. “I was able to escape his room, and he tried following me afterward. But some people intervened. There were a few witnesses to the situation, and I reported a year later.”

Arnold said had these changes been implemented during her case in 2021, the ruling would have been different.

“A part of me believes that these new regulations, if done correctly, would have changed the direction of my case,” Arnold said. “The preponderance of evidence would have considered everything I provided and shown that he was guilty of what I was accusing him of. Then also the single investigator model, instead of having the cross-examination and live hearing, would give an individual the full perspective of the entire case.”

Arnold was reluctant to report her case, fearing that investigators wouldn’t believe her due to alcohol being involved. “My fears came true when my case report came back, and they said that my story didn’t make much sense to them,” Arnold said.

Reflecting on the process, Arnold said she felt mistreated and was allegedly targeted by Title IX staff. Arnold said A&M-Corpus Christi lost her testimony after she transferred to College Station and never contacted her new case adviser.

“For whatever reason, the investigator at the time resigned, and that investigator would not release my testimony to A&M’s main campus Title IX,” Arnold said. “So they made me re-give my testimony. Then, they never put me in contact with an advisor to help me through the process of providing mental health services, even though I had asked for one.” 

At the time, these issues exasperated Arnold’s depression and caused suicidal ideation, which she said made her struggle with the cross-examination portion of her live hearing. 

I had to advocate for my rights instead of having someone advocate for me or just have someone generally respect me … The Title IX process only exasperated those issues, especially having to re-give my testimony and having to relive my experience so many times through that process”

— Michelle Arnold, Texas A&M former student

Although the A&M Title IX office is working to implement changes, Arnold said she believes cases like hers will continue to be mishandled at other campuses due to disorganization.

“I think that the A&M-Corpus Christi Title IX Office is terribly disorganized and has no trauma-informed care, and I think that they, in particular, probably would still have mishandled my case,” Arnold said. “I believe A&M Title IX has issues similar to those of their sister campus. These new regulations promise that things could be different and change, and with the proper follow-through this could change the trajectory of these cases and survivors in general.”

Arnold believes more students will be able to come forward and not be as fearful as she was about making a report. She also said she is hopeful that eliminating pressures caused by cross-examination and live hearings will benefit other cases.

“Having to face the person you reported is very difficult and traumatic,” Arnold said. “So, not having that pressure, I think, will help survivors feel more at ease about coming forward.”

Editor note: Rick Olshak is the director of Title IX compliance for the Texas A&M System, not A&M College Station. This distinction was not present in the original article and has been updated.

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About the Contributor
Stacy Cox
Stacy Cox, News Writer
Stacy Cox is a freshman majoring in Sociology, minoring in Women & Gender Studies and earning a certificate in Legal History. Stacy is from New Braunfels, Texas, and she started writing for The Battalion in November 2023. After graduation, Stacy intends to earn a law degree and pursue a career in law and public service.
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  • B

    Brooks TutorMay 12, 2024 at 1:09 pm

    Debate on updated Title IX. I could not describe the issues better than Senator John Kennedy or Riley Gaines. Please reference the respective videos below:

    youtu.be/OhD75X_bIDU?si=RKm2YIIG163o7WaH

    youtu.be/5OrXOdfxTIg?si=2BYxdB3RtwrciGIO

    It is inconceivable that over 100 years after Women’s Suffrage we are debating over basic women’s rights, fair competition and basic privacy. I realize Title IX is about more than just this, but it is absolutely the reason why the Texas Governor and those of many other states are not choosing to comply with the updates Biden just signed.

    I expect Texas A&M to incorporate any good ideas into their processes, and to be a leader in not catering to extremist ideologies at the detriment to women’s sports and fair basic rights.

    Reply
  • M

    MayaMay 3, 2024 at 12:33 pm

    These people are an embarrassment to A&M. The woke needs to be purged. Enough is enough.

    If somebody is so far gone mentally that they think it’s “political” to say that men are men and cannot become women, they don’t belong here. Men do not have a right to women’s spaces. Men do not have a right to women’s sports. Men cannot become pregnant. Men do not have a right to women’s restrooms or locker rooms. This is not discrimination; this is acknowledging the facts of reality. “Identifying” as a different gender doesn’t make you one, it means you’re mentally ill. You still don’t have a right to spaces that were not designated for you.

    It’s baffling to me that the former students aren’t fighting for A&M harder. I know many of the younger students are a lost cause for hope right now in this regard because they’ve thoroughly sponged up this gender ideology garbage (and other radical points), but the people donating money should want to preserve standards for future generations.

    I’m disgusted with A&M right now. Each of these people following Biden needs to be replaced. And no, I don’t mean do what other Texan universities have done with DEI offices. These people need to be fired entirely and not shuffled to a different department and/or job title.

    Reply
  • F

    Francesca MeyerMay 2, 2024 at 9:24 pm

    Why would anyone who has brains would follow the moron in the White House and his dumb administration? Need to understand the impact of their policies in that it will physically and mentally destroyed women and their sports. No biological male should ever be allowed to cheat and steal from women! Just look at the craziness and failure of this administration’s policies both domestic and foreign! No leader would ever steal from their citizens to pay and support foreign governments and illegals or to hurt one’s own country and economy. A very simple move is to give this population their own league! Why do these Democrats in Congress keep on betraying own people and country? Never seen such dumb and stupid policy decision to destroy women!

    Reply
  • J

    James WaytMay 2, 2024 at 2:43 pm

    DO NOT COMPLY WITH THIS DECEITFUL, LYING PRESIDENT!!!!

    Reply