Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she would begin the process of rewriting a key provision in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that protects sexual assault victims on college campuses on Sept. 7. The provision, implemented by the Obama administration, provides a framework for how universities should handle sexual assault. The Obama-era “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL), which implemented the Title IX guidelines, outlines basic rights of victims who come forward with sexual assault allegations and includes a requirement for schools to publish clear sexual assault policies. It also requires that universities provide both the accused and the accuser ample opportunity to provide evidence, which should be the deciding factor on how the accusation is handled. Finally, the complainant must be protected by the university from harassment, coercion, etc.
DeVos’ announcement to rewrite the DCL represents the Trump administration’s disregard for women’s rights in favor of a pro-right agenda that attempts to give power back to an indignant sector of Trump’s constituency — and does little to resolve the very problem it addresses.
Many proponents of the revision sight a lack of due process as the main contingency for their support. However, the DCL explicitly states, “The parties must have an equal opportunity to present relevant witnesses and other evidence. The complainant and the alleged perpetrator must be afforded similar and timely access to any information that will be used at the hearing.” This comprehensive framework directly benefits not only victims but those that wish to be proven innocent. In fact, the directive was used to help prove an alleged perpetrator innocent at Wesley College (Del.) in 2016. The easily contestable nature of DeVos’ argument against Title IX only furthers sentiments that Trump is trying to appease far-right voters.
To many, DeVos’ announcement represents a clear and continued disregard for women and women’s rights by the Trump administration. The DCL was seen as a major milestone in ensuring the safety of female students on college campuses. Repealing it without acknowledging the real and present danger that many women face in American universities has led victims to feel that their cases have been cast aside in favor of policy initiatives. Opponents of the revision have cited not only Trump’s lax comments on sexual assault but also comments similar to those made by Candice Jackson, the head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Before DeVos’ announcement, Jackson claimed that “the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’ ” According to a case study by SAGE Publications, the rate of falsely reported rapes is only between 2 and 10 percent. The Trump administration’s continuous degradation of the legitimacy of sexual assault has left many feeling as though the severity of sexual assault, especially on college campuses, isn’t being taken seriously by the administration. Despite releasing an interim Q&A for schools, both DeVos and the Department of Education have thus far failed to release a long-term plan for dealing with sexual assault on college campuses and, instead, encouraged silence by taking away victims’ assurance of a thorough investigation into their claim. This attitude encourages a culture in which victims believe that silence is the best option for maintaining their reputation and future, disincentivizing victims to seek justice against their perpetrators. Without a comprehensive approach to sexual assault, the administration seems to be taking a step back in terms of gender equality, not a step forward.
In a time when sexual assault on college campuses has become a national epidemic, it’s curious that the Trump administration would seek to defend the accused or, as DeVos put it, “victims of a lack of due process.” The administration is implementing yet another controversial policy that seeks only to appease a demographic of voters who wish to take back their country by eliminating any progressive action merely for the sake of opposing progressivism. Until the administration can prove a present and urgent need for its revision, advocacy groups will most likely continue to protest the change of such a crucial part of the rights that Title IX works to protect.
Alexandra Grouzis is a College freshman from Franklin, Tenn.