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Preventing sexual assault justice: DeVos looks to erase Title IX guidelines

by The Stylus Staff
Tue, Sep 19th 2017 08:35 pm

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced about two weeks ago that she plans to revise and is in the process of rescinding the guidelines under Title IX detailed in the April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The letter, which was sent to colleges and K-12 schools under the Obama Administration, is a guidance for how institutions that receive federal funding should handle Title IX cases. Title IX prohibits U.S. education programs and activities from discriminating against a student on the basis of sex, which includes sexual harassment and assault.

In a speech given at George Mason University, DeVos explained her concerns with the “Dear Colleague” letter. Following her speech, in an exclusive interview with CBS News, DeVos said she plans to rescind the guidance.

“It is the intention to move beyond [the guidelines] and move towards a better way,” DeVos said. 

She did not explain any changes she plans to make, but instead said the Department of Education is opening a “notice-and-comment process” that will allow public feedback.

We at The Stylus believe the guidelines detailed in the “Dear Colleague” letter are sufficient and necessary and to rescind the guidance is not only irresponsible, but will make it harder for victims of sexual harassment or assault to one, make a report and two, receive justice if the report is followed through by Student Conduct or law enforcement officials.

We shouldn’t be surprised by DeVos’ actions. She was already unqualified to be the Secretary of Education, let alone know how to handle something as serious as Title IX. The Trump administration continues to say that certain policies need to be fixed or replaced, yet never say what it plans to replace the policies with. Just one example is when the administration fought to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Without a solid replacement, the Senate turned it down and the ACA is still in place. We can only hope that DeVos’ plans to “replace” Title IX guidelines fall as flat as other replacements have in the past. 

One of DeVos’ concerns is that schools can handle Title IX cases after or without them going through local law enforcement. In her speech, she said that if a student isn’t discouraged from reporting sexual misconduct to law enforcement, the case will go to the school where an administrator will make a decision. What she apparently doesn’t know is that a school can make a decision based on the incident, no matter what happens with the case legally and no matter where the student is in the legal process, which is outlined in the “Dear Colleague” letter. 

To use The College at Brockport as an example: if the Title IX Coordinator, who at our college is Denine Carr, receives a report of sexual misconduct, she will follow up with the student who may or may not be a victim. She goes through all possible actions the student can take, which is either filing a report with University Police or the Brockport Police Department (which doesn’t necessarily mean they must press criminal charges), filing a report with Student Conduct, doing both or doing neither. 

It is important to note that depending on the severity of the report, the college can decide to take action against the accused whether or not the victim wants the school  to do so. This means that Student Conduct can make a decision to take action against the accused, be it as small as a no-contact order or as big as expulsion, whether or not criminal charges were filed with law enforcement, if Student Conduct finds that the accused student is guilty. 

Her other major concern with the guidelines is that schools are required to use a preponderance of evidence standard, instead of something like proof without a reasonable doubt standard. The preponderance of evidence standard is the lowest standard of proof, meaning that the reported incident is more likely than not to have occurred. This is the standard for all civil rights cases, and to expect or ask that Title IX use a different standard of evidence is absurd. Why should we change the rules for only one type of civil rights violation, and why specifically sexual misconduct?

It seems fair to conclude that either DeVos doesn’t understand the simple guidelines of “Dear Colleague” or she understands them completely and has decided to make it harder for students who have committed sexual misconduct to be found responsible. What other explanations could be concluded? Either way, we need to be concerned, because in one explanation, the Secretary of Education doesn’t even understand simple guidelines that she should, and in the other explanation, she disagrees with such guidelines and wants to make it harder for victims of sexual misconduct to receive the justice they deserve. We already live in a society that promotes rape culture and makes it extremely difficult for victims to step forward, let alone seek justice if they have the confidence and courage to say something to their college or local law enforcement. Just look at Brock Turner if you need an example.

When you get down to it, Title IX and “Dear Colleague” are fine as they are. Everything that DeVos wants is already there. If certain schools and colleges aren’t following the law and guidelines like they’re supposed to, if they’re somehow going through the process or investigation wrong, then the Department of Education needs to address the issue with those schools. 

Why should the rest of the colleges who are benefitting from the regulations and guidance under Title IX have to see some kind of change because of a very small minority? Don’t fix something if it’s not broken; resolve an issue with a specific institution if necessary.

This is an issue that won’t be going away anytime soon, and it’s something we all need to stay up-to-date on. All students across the country will no doubt be negatively affected by these changes should they go through. 

We, as students, need to do everything in our power to stop any possible changes, whether that be participating in public demonstrations, contacting our local representatives, making our own suggestions as part of DeVos’ call for public feedback or any other action we can think of. This should not be taken lightly; these changes will only make it harder than it already is to be a victim of sexual assault.

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