The CSU-wide changes to the Title IX sexual misconduct policy have left some students fighting for improvement.
Kelsey Maganaris, a 22-year-old Sonoma State student, along with seven of her fellow classmates, initiated a petition urging some changes to the policy which was enacted March 29.
This new CSU-wide change states that “a hearing will have to be held in sexual assault cases between the accused and the victim, with a trained hearing officer determining the final results.”
One of these problems has come from each party being allowed one advisor to be present while testifying. If necessary, it can be an attorney which would, ideally, be provided by the school. At this moment, this is not the case.
“[The students] see a power imbalance in this process,” said Maganaris, “Imagine this: if there is a plaintiff and the victim cannot afford an attorney, they won’t get one, but if the person who is accused can afford an attorney, then they have more of an advantage at getting off.”
Title IX Director Sarah Clegg confirmed that students could hire an attorney to be their advisor.
She said, while this may create a scenario in which one party has an advisor and another student has a non-attorney as an advisor, “the role of the advisor remains the same.”
Advisors don’t participate directly in the hearing. They can only talk to the party they are advising and can’t ask questions or answer for the hearing participant.
“While the change to the Title IX process are mandated, we can and will continue to take every reasonable measure to ensure that parties receive fair, neutral, and unbiased treatment throughout the investigation and hearing process,” Clegg said.
Maganaris, along with her classmates, see this becoming a bigger issue and hope to stop it. They also believe that these hearings can be humiliating and intimidating. In addition, it makes the victim relive their trauma all over again.
“I picture someone going through the Title IX process, they have to provide all of this evidence, relive their trauma, send it in to the Title IX director and they have to sit through a hearing,” said Maganaris. “They can be potentially questioned by the other side and that’s traumatizing and wrong because we are not the law, we are not the court and not the criminal justice system and, to me, it really feels like this is what it’s mimicking.”
The group’s petition, created on change.org in order to rectify this new rule, has already gotten 100 signatures and the number keeps increasing. They are hoping to reach 500 signatures and then they will bring it to the Title IX office at the end of the spring semester. They want the people behind them before they approach the school.
“I appreciate the feeback and in no way want to minimize the concerns or questions that anyone has regarding these changes,” Clegg said.
Kathleen Perry is one of the many Sonoma State students who has signed this petition. It is important to her because she knows students who have been assaulted or harassed on campus and feels the school is further protecting defendants from being held accountable for their actions instead of protecting the survivor.
“I’m worried it will discourage the few people who are actually willing to report from reporting at all,” said Perry.
Since these changes are CSU-wide, changing the rules is a challenge. Maganaris understands this but would like to encourage Sonoma State to at least consider these changes.
“My group and I can make a small difference for the victim, just to require a lawyer, and that’s what I think I am after here,” said Maganaris. “What I really want the school to do is either A: find the money to provide lawyers, or B: find a list of pro-bono lawyers who are willing to do the work for these students, providing that resource to the victim.”
For Maganaris, this petition means giving victims the ability to feel like they can voice their experiences and feel safe in their school environment. These victims could potentially have to be at school with the person who hurt them and it could damage their educational opportunities. Maganaris values education and the rights of students, making this a very important cause for her to fight.