Where We Go From Here

As the school year approaches, there are several changes going on in our academic lives and in the world around us. As I'm sure you've seen on every social media and news platform, Betsy Devos has been making waves as the United States Secretary of Education. We, as students, need to pay close attention to her plans considering her decisions will directly affect us. One of her plans includes changing Title IX.

For those of you who don't know, Title IX is part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title IX states that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Title IX applies to any institution that receives federal financial assistance from the Education Department; this includes state and local government agencies. Approximately 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries, museums, vocational rehabilitation agencies and education agencies of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and territories and possessions of the United States. That is several hundreds and thousands of people that are impacted by Title IX. 

One of the most important parts of Title IX, in my own opinion, is the inclusion of sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion. Sexual harassment and sexual violence is rampant, not only on college campuses, but world wide. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 18% of women in the U.S have been raped during their lifetime. However, only 16% of all rapes have been reported to law enforcement. In 2006 alone, 300,000 college women were raped. According to RAINN, Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, every 98 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime in the U.S. Movements like #MeToo have been putting the spotlight on sexual harassment and sexual assault and the proposed changes to Title IX have made that spotlight burn brighter.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Betsy Devos is the 11th Secretary of Education of the U.S.. One of the issues she has focused on is Title IX and the policy changes to Title IX are things to pay attention to. One of the changes she wants to make is regarding the standard of evidence for each school; every school would be allowed to set their own standard of evidence. The issue with this change is that the burden of proof could be higher for victims in some schools than others, without some type of set regulation, different schools can decide that victims of sexual harassment must prove more than they actually can. Another change would be the allowance of both the victim and the accused to sit together in mediations. This would mean that both parties are allowed to give their side of the story about the incident and can cross-examine each other while also providing evidence at the same time. This is helpful in the sense that both sides of the story are heard. However, the issue with having both parties present is the mental and emotional stress that the victim would endure in that mediation. 

Imagine the stress that someone would go through in that situation. You already struggled with deciding on whether or not to admit to yourself and to others that you were sexually assaulted. Then you have to talk to more people about what happened and every single time you have to describe the story, you're reliving it in your head. Then you find out that the person you accused is going to be in a mediation with you. You find out that this person is going to get to ask you questions about what happened, knowing that that person is going to try and make it seem like you're lying. Imagine knowing that people are going to be asking for evidence but feeling lost because you don't know what to give them, you don't know how to prove that what happened did happen. You wish there was a way you could project your memories to them so they can see it too, but at the same time, you never want to let those see the light of day. 

These changes would also only hold schools responsible for looking into formal complaints, which are complaints that are made to an official who has the authority to institute correcting measures. Betsy Devos' new policies would also limit school's legal liability by making them responsible only for incidents that occurred on campus or within a school-sanctioned program. Therefore, colleges would no longer be responsible for handling assault charges that occurred in off-campus housing ad other off-site facilities. The current policies from the Obama-era administration made schools investigate all student complaints, regardless of where they were located. This change of liability is important because of the message it sends to not only victims of sexual assault, but to perpetrators as well. The limits of liability tells victims that as long as the assault happened off campus, then the school does not and will not hear about your complaint. This creates a barrier between victims and the school, there's a halt in communication that needed to happen. Off campus parties happen frequently and the chances of being a victim of sexual assault increases- but those victims will never be heard by the school if these policies are enacted because the legal liability would be limited.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

There are several arguments for and against the new policies that Betsy Devos wants to enact. But as students, we need to pay attention to these policies because they directly affect us and how our interactions with our universities will change. Where we go from here, as students, is up to us. What we decide to do and how we decide to treat the issue of sexual harassment and all of the issues Title IX is meant to protect us from and help us with is not something to be taken lightly. We determine the culture of our universities and I hope that as students who continue to pursue higher education and want to stand for what's right, we continue to open our hearts and minds to people who need help- regardless of what policies may tell us.