University updates civil rights policy

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

In light of the changes to the state and federal law in the summer of 2020, the University of Dallas updated its civil rights policies, appointing more faculty and staff to handle civil rights complaints and changing the process of how these cases are resolved. 

Dr. Jose Espericueta, an associate professor of Spanish and a member of the new civil rights pool, said that the updates are especially pertinent in the current climate in America. 

“I think it’s important to note that we are in a moment of reflection and debate,” said Espericueta. “An increasing number of voices are participating in this conversation, which is important and necessary. It’s also incredibly valuable when groups or individuals speak up, challenge the community to live up to its values, and even provoke discomfort when doing so.”

An email sent by Seth Oldham, the director of student affairs, on Aug. 19, 2020 alerted students to the changes in the civil rights policy at UD.

“In keeping with the Catholic Faith and local, state, and federal law, the University of Dallas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, pregnancy, disability, veteran status, genetic information, religion, age, or any other protected category under applicable law,” read the email.

The updates to the policy came in response to recent changes to Texas and federal law. The changes were outlined in greater detail in the document entitled “Civil Rights Policy FAQs,” which was sent to all undergraduates on Sept. 11, 2020. 

“The University will not tolerate actions by members of the UD community that

discriminate on the basis of a protected class and thereby deny, deprive, or limit a person’s

participation in the programs and activities of the University,” the “Civil Rights Policy FAQs” document said. “Such behavior is a violation of University policy and a direct attack on our community.”

“The University used this opportunity to clarify certain areas of the University’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, to create more consistency in their implementation, and to ensure additional education and training opportunities for all members of the University community,” said Joshua Skinner, Title IX/Section 504 & veterans affairs coordinator. 

The president has appointed 14 members of the UD faculty and staff to a newly formed civil rights pool.  

“The members of the civil rights pool may serve in a variety of roles–as an investigator, as a member of a hearing panel or as an advisor to the complainant or respondent,” said Skinner. 

“The fact that those of us in this pool come from different departments and areas of campus is positive and it brings important perspectives to the consideration of civil rights and Title IX cases,” said Espericueta. 

The president also appointed two Deputy Civil Rights/Title IX coordinators, LaCoya Williams, the associate director of human resources, and Monica Heckman, the head athletics trainer. 

“The primary role of the coordinator and the deputy coordinators is to serve as points of contact for students, faculty, and staff to report violations and to provide guidance through the complaint process,” said Skinner. “They also assist in other aspects of implementing the Policy, such as providing supportive assistance to those who may have experienced a violation.”

The university has also made changes to the civil rights and sexual violence process. All civil rights complaints will go through the exact same investigations and hearings process. 

Formal complaints will now be resolved through a live hearing in front of a three-person panel or through an agreed-upon informal resolution. Witnesses will also now provide testimony at the live hearing. Each party is allowed to review all the relevant evidence and use it at the hearing. 

Additionally, the “Civil Rights Policy FAQs” document states, “All civil rights complaints, including complaints of sexual violence, will have the same burden of proof: the complaint must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. That is to say, the hearing panel will evaluate whether it is more likely than not that the accused committed the alleged policy violation(s).”

The two deputy civil rights coordinators, all members of the civil rights pool, and two staff members of the University of Dallas Rome Campus received two and a half days of training in the civil rights policies and procedures. They will receive ongoing training. 

The training materials can be viewed online at https://www.udallas.edu/offices/civil-rights/training.php

“I do think it’s crucial that we meet the concerns of this moment, particularly the issue of systemic racism, with the kind of openness and rigor characteristic of a university community, particularly a Catholic one,” said Espericueta.   

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