Missouri NAACP branch backs changes to Title IX process
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri branch of the NAACP on Friday announced support for legislation that would change how colleges and universities handle sexual assault complaints.
St. Louis County NAACP President John Gaskin III in a statement praised a House bill that supporters say is aimed at making procedures for handling Title IX complaints more fair for the accused. Title IX is a federal law that bans sex-based discrimination in education, including sexual harassment and rape.
“The denial of due process at Missouri’s colleges disproportionately impacts African American men,” Gaskin said, “And that’s why we call for immediate due process reforms.”
Universities and victims-rights advocates have criticized the legislation, saying it could dissuade victims from coming forward.
Republican Rep. Dean Dohrman’s bill would guarantee those involved in complaints the right to an attorney at their own expense and the right to cross-examine witnesses. If the measure becomes law, the university decision maker could be questioned and kicked off the case if they are biased or have a conflict of interest.
The bill also would require that colleges “refrain from using the term ‘survivor’ or any other term that presumes guilt” before a final decision is reached.
Cases could be appealed to the state Administrative Hearing Commission, where two of three sitting members have ties to supporters of the bill.
Gaskin also on Friday defended David Steward, a wealthy St. Louis businessman who is financially supporting a nonprofit that’s pushing the legislation.
Steward, who is black, previously served as a University of Missouri curator and now is a Washington University trustee.
Gaskin said opponents are trying to hurt Steward’s reputation “simply because he had the courage to stand up for civil rights on our college campuses.”