Betsy DeVos and Title IX

 

 

Last Thursday (September 7),  in a closed event at George Mason University, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos announced her department’s intent to rollback Title IX by nullifying the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and beginning a notice-and-comment process of reporting in the future. It doesn’t sound so bad on paper, but it seriously disenfranchises sexual assault survivors.

In 2011, under the Obama administration, the Department of Education released what is now known as the Dear Colleague Letter, addressing the serious epidemic of sexual assault on both college and public high school campuses. This letter served to officially define just how Title IX protected sexual assault survivors, and although it was not a legally binding document, it stated that survivors would never be forced to continue studying in a hostile environment. (Previously, sexual assault survivors had occasionally been asked to suspend their study until their attacker graduated, or the case was not brought up until it no longer affected any specific individual on campus.) Now, they would be given every protection and accommodation (free counseling, switching class times, etc.) necessary to ensure they never feared for their safety. What Betsy DeVos has done by revoking the promises of this letter is allow the perpetrator to be granted the benefit of the doubt rather than the survivor.

DeVos claims that under the precedent of the Letter, accused attackers are not afforded due process or given equal treatment. She sees them as victims of preferential treatment given to survivors by the Obama administration. This is not true. The Letter expressly provides for “an equal opportunity to present relevant witnesses and other evidence” to both sides, not simply the victim. Supporters of DeVos’s actions claim that under her system, an even playing field will be set for both the victim and the accused, but franklyin reality, the Dear Colleague Letter justly provided for conscientious treatment of solely the victims. It allowed for victims to feel more comfortable voicing their experience with sexual assault and seeking help, knowing that they would be accommodated rather than silenced.

Are we surprised by DeVos’s actions? Frankly, yes. Title IX and sexual assault/harassment policy reform has always been at least somewhat bipartisan. It was Republicans who initially passed Title IX in 1972, and Supreme Court Justices of all political leanings have held up cases against sexual assault in the past several years. However, even coming out of an administration that seems to have done nothing but compromiseill to Americans’ civil rights, this is an unexpectedly malicious step to take on behalf of the administration.

 

Co-edited by Jane Kim and Shatoyia Jones

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First Year at Amherst