Payton Dunn stands on campus at Syracuse University.
Payton Dunn experienced sexual harassment from a former roommate in Syracuse University housing but declined to pursue the matter any further, due to the regulatory obstacles put in place.

As a victim of sexual misconduct in the fall of 2020, Payton Dunn decided from the very beginning that Title IX would not be able to provide him with what he needed to heal from his experience. He said the cross examination that the 2020 changes to Title IX allowed deterred him from the start.

Cross examinations and a significant increase in evidentiary standards have turned a Title IX case into a tumultuous and traumatic process. This practice calls for a victim to be face-to-face with the accused to dispute the case.

“I don’t have the time to take out of my schedule to be in the same room as them again and have to testify against them and have to go through that traumatic experience again,” said Dunn, a sophomore at Syracuse University and the editor in chief of The OutCrowd, a student-run LGBTQIA+ publication.

Title IX’s cross examination policy is very harmful for victims, said Chris Kosakowski, the campus team coordinator at Vera House, a nonprofit organization in Syracuse that provides counseling, advocacy, shelter, and education to victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and elder abuse.

“The accused person being able to ask questions to a victim in this space that is not a courthouse but is being played out as if it were one definitely causes fear and intimidation,” said Kosakowski.

While Dunn was not able to receive the support he truly wanted from Title IX, he does wish he knew of Vera House at the time he was initially coping with his sexual misconduct experience. Kosakowski emphasizes the impact these changes have made on students going through situations.

“It’s created a lot of resistance to the system,” said Kosakowski. “It’s spread a lot of mistrust for the system.”

While Title IX has served as a resource to students for reasons far beyond sexual assault, harassment, and violence, the year 2020 brought into question just how reliable that resource is for students utilizing it for those purposes. Betsy DeVos, the Trump Administration’s secretary of education, announced these particular changes to Title IX in May of 2020.

DeVos announced that the evidentiary standards for Title IX cases would be raised. This means that significantly more evidence must be provided in the event of a reported sexual assault case and allowed for cross examinations. Consequentially, the change also allows the accused to gain more power and control than ever before, said Kosakowski.

These new rules prevent victims from gaining justice and even filing a report to begin with, Kosakowski said.

He explains how this change can create a cycle that could potentially perpetuate harmful effects for years after a Title IX case is closed. He said those who feel wronged by the policy makers who are supposed to represent their needs are not going to return to the programs they created to begin with.

“When we’re talking about all of these issues- of domestic and sexual violence- at the root of all of these forms of harm is power and control,” said Kosakowski.

He said policy really can impact subcultures on a college campus. If the presidential administration deems the accused innocent without significant evidence as the Trump Administration’s revised Title IX policy did, it sets a precedent that those individuals can get away with causing harm to others in the future, he said.

Since Title IX was passed in 1972, it has been under much speculation from government officials, schools, and students themselves. A policy that was put into place to encourage safe and fair environments at American schools has rattled the nation including SU.

Title IX states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Erin Hern, a political science assistant professor at SU’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Affairs, breaks down how rules like this may change and their effects on college campuses.

“Increasing evidentiary standards is usually detrimental to victims who are making these claims because it’s already so difficult to prove,” Hern said.

Hern explains how if a camera was always recording or a phone was constantly taping a conversation, this rule may be less harmful. However, in many of these situations, evidence is hard to come by.

“One of the distinctions is whether the college or university is doing the bare minimum to be in federal compliance,” Hern said.

Although a university must be compliant with Title IX as changes come and go, there will always be additional resources and support the school can provide for its students. Syracuse offers educational workshops and presentations along with counseling.