Letter to Editor

My name is Caroline Whitlow, and I am one of multiple students who spoke out about my struggle with reporting sexual misconduct on campus. In a statement over the summer, JMU committed to “redoubling its efforts” to combat sexual violence. I have been relieved to see Green Dot programming introduced and changes made to the student handbook. But as our university promises to move forward in protection of survivors’ rights, potential new federal guidance aims to dismantle all progress made.

Under Secretary DeVos, the Department of Education drafted policies that would protect institutions and perpetrators at the expense of survivors’ rights. These policies include raising evidence standards and allowing universities to deny disciplinary measures for incidents that occur off-campus (i.e., frat parties, apartments, bars, and pretty much any other place sexual assault happens).

While I agree that the current system has its faults, any due process concerns impact both the accuser and the accused. Demonizing trauma-informed policy will not solve the complex issue of gender-based violence in higher education.

This is a pivotal time to practice civic engagement. When the Department of Education officially releases a draft of new guidance, a public Notice and Comment period will begin. Anyone with a vested interest in the issue can provide feedback, concerns and personal testimony. Once legislation is finalized, universities may reserve the right to decide whether they want to adopt certain policies. Students should advocate for JMU officials to design procedures that best support victim-survivors and hold perpetrators accountable.

Contact Caroline Whitlow at whitlocl@dukes.jmu.edu.