On Thursday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos delivered a devastating speech about the department’s plans to roll back Title IX enforcement.
Implemented in 1972, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. It was instrumental in providing equal opportunity for female student-athletes and in administrative matters. Just as importantly, however, is its power to protect students seeking justice in sexual assault and harassment cases.
It’s that last part, about harassment and assault, that DeVos went after.
The Obama administration ramped up Title IX enforcement by instructing schools and administrators to take active steps to fight campus assault. The Trump administration aims to revert those changes.
“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said at George Mason University. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”
While no official policy was announced, DeVos indicated the department plans to solicit feedback and implement new guidelines in the coming months.
Women’s rights advocates and organizations geared toward fighting sexual assault made their presence known, both online and in person.
The day before DeVos’ speech, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) rallied in the rain outside the Department of Education.
Groups like NARAL Pro-Choice were on the ground, out in full force.
And a host of other groups weighed in with fact sheets, graphics, and petitions, using the hashtag #StopBetsy.
The voices that weren’t heard nearly enough in all this, however, were those of the survivors of sexual assault.
A look at Twitter uncovered a sense of betrayal and re-traumatization among assault survivors. Many noted the low percentage of reported assaults that turn out to be false, while others offered support to classmates, colleagues, and total strangers who’ve shared similar traumatizing experiences.
I feel physically ill. Betsy DeVos has elevated the dishonest bleating of Men’s Rights Activists above sexual assault survivors.
— ella of themyscira (@brosandprose) September 7, 2017
Everybody is against sexual assault, right? That’s a no-brainer. Yet actions like this from the Trump administration seem to try to level the playing field and treat victims and assailants as equals.
As comedy writer Nick Jack Pappas noted, most of us probably would have thought that condemning white supremacists was a similarly easy move.
ProPublica education reporter Annie Waldman unleashed a detailed thread outlining DeVos’ attacks on some of the Department of Education’s core functions in civil rights and consumer protections. In other words, the Title IX news is just the latest in a long line of disappointing moves.
Whether it’s Title IX enforcement (which offers protections to people of all genders), ensuring that trans people aren’t discriminated against, protecting students from scams, or a host of other issues, the DeVos Department of Education is a proverbial wrecking ball.
There are actionable things DeVos could have proposed if the concern was really to protect against false reports.
For instance, in a 2016 TED Talk, Jessica Ladd outlined a simple and secure way to protect survivors as well as the due process of the person being accused. That’s the type of innovation that could actually address the concerns DeVos raised. Instead, she seems intent on taking a back to the drawing board approach to addressing campus assault that’s likely to do little more than ensure that fewer students receive justice.
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Tags: The Conversation