Frigon Signs Letter to DeVos Urging Reconsideration of Changes to Title IX Guidelines

Frigon (R) presents an award on behalf of Student Senate to Professor Vernon Cisney (Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

Frigon (R) presents an award on behalf of Student Senate to Professor Vernon Cisney in October 2017 (Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

By Benjamin Pontz, Managing News Editor

Student Senate President Luke Frigon ’18 signed a letter Monday along with more than 200 student government leaders from across the country addressed to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging her to reconsider her intent to rescind Department of Education guidelines pertaining to sexual assault under Title IX issued during the Obama era.

The letter, which is embedded below as it appeared on December 13, focuses specifically on what the signers view as an “undue burden on survivors of sexual assault” that would arise from DeVos’s proposal to raise the evidentiary standard required in campus judicial action from the current preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e. “more likely than not”).

“Our concern is that this progress will be impeded by the new guidelines under your consideration, namely, raising the burden of proof necessary for a finding of responsibility will decrease the willingness of universities to launch thorough investigation proceeding,” the letter reads. “Without clear, unwavering commitment from elected officials and government leaders, yourself chief among them, it will be too easy for school administrators to prioritize the avoidance of bad publicity over holding perpetrators responsible for their actions.”

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Frigon said that he was contacted by Chas Newman, a student in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, about signing the letter, and that he decided to do so in his personal capacity, not on behalf of Student Senate.

Frigon supports the use of the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

“I think that any action to limit this standard of proof would be harmful, and that’s what I’m worried about,” he said. “I think Devos’s proposed changes could make it more difficult for victims to report, and it would help abusers get away.”

However, Frigon is not worried about Gettysburg College seeking to avoid bad publicity by covering up allegations of sexual assault.

“I think Gettysburg has done a great job so far in combating sexual assault,” he said. “Instead of sweeping things like assault and abuse under the rug, we’ve had productive campus conversations about it. We’ve taken steps to ensure the ability of victims to report, but also remain fair to [both] parties in the process.”

In September, when DeVos first announced her intent to revise Obama era guidelines, Jennifer McCary, then the Associate Dean for Violence Prevention and Resolution and Title IX Coordinator (McCary left Gettysburg last week to pursue an opportunity at another institution), told The Gettysburgian that the college had no plans to revise its procedures unless mandated by the Department of Education to do so.

“[T]here are flaws to the current structure that the Department of Education has outlined. More can be done in order for the process to support survivors and provide fundamental fairness to the accused,” McCary said. “Here at Gettysburg College, we strive to support all of our students while remaining compliant with the law.”

For his part, Frigon pledged to continue to support efforts to combat sexual assault at Gettysburg.

“[Gettysburg] is taking steps to ensure that assault doesn’t happen on our campus,” he said, “but until that day, I’m satisfied and proud of the work currently being done to combat such awful stuff.”

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as editor-in-chief of The Gettysburgian. Previously, he served as a staff writer, event coverage coordinator, news editor, and managing news editor. During his tenure, he has written more than 120 articles, and he led the team that won first place in the 2017 Keystone Press Awards for ongoing news coverage of Robert Spencer's visit to Gettysburg College. Ben is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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