On September 7 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made the momentous announcement to roll back Obama-era Title IX regulations that were set in place to protect college sexual assault survivors.
Secretary DeVos blamed the previous administration for lowering the standards of evidential support needed for sexual assault allegations, and pledged to defend those who were wrongly accused by such allegations.
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 mandates 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.”
While this law is held valid in the eyes of both critics and supporters of the Obama regulations, the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter the Obama administration sent to universities is the controversial and polarizing factor in the fight against college sexual assault. As reported by the New York Times, in the letter, the administration advised colleges to “change the standard for how to determine guilt from proof that was beyond ‘reasonable doubt’ to ‘preponderance of evidence’,” which is roughly equivalent to a 51% certainty to determine guilt.
This here, is the problem for DeVos, as she has strongly emphasized the importance of protecting the group of students who have been wrongfully accused by their peers.
While it is incredibly important to treat every accused as “innocent until proven guilty,” I do not understand why DeVos has to strip away the protective rights every college student is entitled to in order to protect only one certain group of people, rather than protect the whole student body.
The “Dear Colleague” letter is simply a relevant reminder that requires schools to actively pursue sexual assault cases and penalize violators who have jeopardized the safety of the schools’ environments. It is every university’s responsibility to not only educate every student that walks through their doors, but to protect, respect, and uphold their security as well.
It’s already hard to provide ample evidence in a sexual assault case, and it’s already hard for survivors to come forward and experience the consequential steps necessary in the name of justice. It is challenging to protect the rights of all parties involved, but what it is simply outrageous how Secretary DeVos has not devised any legitimate plan to substitute for the one she wants erased. She denounces Obama’s guidelines as a “failed system” but suggests that schools should come up with their own ways to address campus rape.
As pointed out by New York Times writers Miriam Gleckman-Krut and Nicole Bedera, under this Trump administration, who truly gets to define campus rape now? And when, I ask, should we laminate and frame the Title IX posters around the NJIT campus to remind students that we are a united front against sexual assault?