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Why The Department of Education Needs to Make Title IX Policy Changes Now

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to officials from the United States Department of Education about how current Title IX legislation impacts students. After this meeting, I joined survivors, activists, and campus organizers in delivering a proposal with over 55,000 signatures demanding that action be done, coining the hashtag #EdActNOW

Although I was hopeful that the Department of Education would listen to our demands and choose to make Title IX policy changes now, they dismissed our requests. They justified their inaction by explaining how organizers, like me, have already provided survivors with good enough resources. 

While the work campus organizers do is important and beneficial to survivors, the Department of Education has the responsibility to keep students safe. It should not be up to me or any other student to end sexual assault on our college campuses. This issue should be addressed on a larger scale with policy changes to prevent sexual violence and provide survivors with support. 

Currently, federal Title IX policy requires survivors to go through a gruesome investigation process where they can be cross-examined and thus retraumatized. The advisors who cross-examine survivors and other witnesses are not required to be lawyers; they can be classmates and friends of the perpetrators. 

Students who are already suffering with the aftermath of being assaulted are forced to be interrogated by inexperienced people in a conference room where due process and protections against survivors do not apply as they would in a court of law. Allowing untrained advisors to cross-examine survivors only contributes to their stress and can lead them to experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

A main reason why many survivors choose to report their assaults to their schools rather than the police is because they do not think they can handle the investigation and trial process. Yet, the Department of Education handles sexual assaults in almost the exact same way, knowingly subjecting young adults to a long and draining process.

Students are now even more afraid to report their assaults in fear that going to the Title IX office will “cause more harm than good.” 

Schools should handle assaults seriously and foster an environment where students trust the administration.Survivors should not be worried that they will face an investigation process they are not prepared to handle with little support from their school’s administration.

Although sexual assault is always prevalent, this year, it is more important than ever that Title IX policy protects survivors. With COVID-19, many schools were entirely online or hybrid last year. Now, both the freshmen and sophomore classes are coming to campus for the first time, and upperclassmen are eager to return to the pre-COVID college lifestyle. 

This relates to the concept of the Red Zone which is a period of time—from the start of the school year until Thanksgiving break—in which over 50% of campus sexual assaults occur. Statistically, most of these assaults occur against first-year students. With twice as many students coming to campus for the first time, there is an even greater likelihood that students will experience sexual assault. 

The number one priority of the Department of Education should be the health, safety, and wellbeing of students. Yet, with so many students at risk of sexual violence, Title IX policy still remains unchanged. Despite recognizing the flaws in the current legislation, Department of Education officials do not plan to release proposed changes until May of 2022.

The safety of students cannot wait until next year. The Department of Education needs to act now to ensure that students feel comfortable reporting their assaults and that survivors get the justice they deserve. 

Bella Travis

American '24

Bella is a sophomore at American University majoring in Justice and Law. She is passionate about sexual assault prevention, juvenile justice reform, and nonprofit management. She is currently a Contributing Writer for Her Campus at AU and is living in Washington, D.C.
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