The Trump administration’s top education official scrapped Obama-era guidance for evaluating campus sexual assaults last week.
Every college in the country can now determine for themselves how they assess and investigate sexual assault claims. The guidance the Obama administration released in 2011 and updated in 2014 instructed universities to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced on Sept. 22 new, interim guidelines that give colleges the option to stick with that standard or implement a harder-to-meet "clear and convincing evidence" standard.
News4 asked eight colleges in the D.C. area what standard they will use for evaluating sexual assault claims. Three schools said they will stick with the Obama-era rules, three schools said they're still deciding what to do and two schools did not respond to inquiries.
Here's what the schools said:
Georgetown will keep the Obama-era rules in place until further notice, a statement from the school says.
“Our current policies and processes will remain in place while we review the Q&A guidance and await the Department’s formal regulations,” the statement says. A university spokesman declined to make additional comments.
George Washington University
GW will continue to use the Obama-era “preponderance of evidence” standard, according to a statement by university president Thomas LeBlanc.
Student Eve Zhurbinsky, a senior with double majors in political science and history, participated in a protest against DeVos' decision. Zhurbinsky said she wants her school to keep the Obama-era standard and do a better job of helping students who say they were attacked.
“No matter what happens at the federal level, GW needs to take a closer look on how best to prevent violence from occurring and how to ensure that survivors feel safe,” she said.
Another student told News4 she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student. She chose not to report the attack to school officials or police.
“I was worried that if I did report, it would be a lot more pain and drama for me. People would assume I was lying," she said. She asked that News4 withhold her name to protect her privacy.
She said she worries that the DeVos policy change will deter survivors from reporting crimes and make it harder for them to prove their cases if they do report.
"Things are probably going to get even worse now," she said. "This is the wrong direction. We need more protection, not less.”
University of Maryland
UMD will continue to comply with the Obama-era standards, a university spokeswoman said.
Steven Clark, a junior who belongs to the school's College Republicans group, said he supports DeVos' decision.
“I think the Obama administration had good intentions when they put that out,” he said. "But I agree with Secretary DeVos with the need to have more due process.”
Clark said he thinks the Trump administration's move will make college judicial proceedings on sexual assault more fair.
Catholic has yet to decide whether or not they will impose stricter standards, a university spokeswoman said.
Sophomore Griffin Namin, a politics major, said he's eager for the school to announce what they will do.
“Party politics aside, there needs to be a standard [for all universities],” he said.
George Mason University
GMU administrators are evaluating DeVos’ interim guidance, President Angel Cabrera said in a statement. School officials did not respond to requests for additional information.
AU said in a statement issued Sept. 8, a day after news broke that DeVos would change federal policy, that "any federal guidance that may come will be reviewed thoroughly with our community."
The school has not made additional comments about whether they will continue to follow the Obama-era guidance or if they will adopt a higher standard for evidence.
School officials did not respond to requests for additional information.
Maureen Smith, a senior at the school and the director of a student-run women's rights group, said she thinks DeVos' decision is a step backward.
“My thoughts went to ... how much work it took to have Title IX processes be supportive of survivors, and how regressive these changes will be," she said.
Officials at Howard did not respond to inquiries about what they will do.
University of the District of Columbia
Officials at UDC did not respond to inquiries about what they will do.