Universities Aren't Sure What Will Happen to Campus Sexual Assault Policy Under Betsy DeVos

On April 4, 2011, the education department's Office of Civil Rights under the Obama administration issued a document that would come to be known as the “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges and universities. It included new guidance on Title IX, which prohibits educational institutions from discriminating based on sex: “If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” The letter later threatens the withdrawal of federal funding or federal litigation if an institution is not compliant with Title IX enforcement proceedings.

So the Obama administration took a hard-line stance on Title IX and sexual assault. But now, under President Donald Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, colleges aren't sure what's coming next.

Many Title IX advocacy groups are appealing to universities to uphold the policies of the Obama administration regarding sexual assault. These actions are a response to the fear that the Trump administration “could usher in a new era of stigmatizing young women who speak up when they have been sexually assaulted by fellow students," according to The New York Times.

In her confirmation hearing, newly confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that it would be "premature" for her to take a position on Title IX. This obviously scared a lot of people who felt like the country was finally making progress on the issue of campus assault. The National Women’s Law Center staged a call-in to the Education Department to persuade DeVos to commit to the current federal sexual assault guidance, while End Rape on Campus initiated the Twitter campaign, #DearBetsy.

Of course, there are people who think the Obama-era policies were too restrictive and want reform. Their main complaint is that current policies are biased against accused perpetrators—the norm now is to believe people who say they were sexually assaulted, and some think that means the person accused doesn't get a fair shot when it comes to persecution.

In any case, it may be a while before we find out where the Trump administration will go with Title IX and sexual assault—those policies are overseen by the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, and DeVos has yet to name a candidate for leadership.