Trump Administration Will Roll Back Another Obama-Era Policy

Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017. (Unmodified Creative Commons photo by Gage Skidmore.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced at an invite-only speech given at George Mason University on September 7, that the current administration was seriously reviewing the sexual assault guidelines on college campuses, especially the procedures of Title IX.

Title IX is a part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 stating 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.”

In 2011, then President Barack Obama published the “Dear Colleague” letter to communicate to all educational institution that receive federal funding the procedures in which to deal with sexual harassment and assault among students. The letter touched on everything from the legality of these issues to how to conduct an investigation and hearing for victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Under the Obama-era guidelines, it was required that when deciding guiltiness in sexual harassment or assault cases that schools use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard as opposed to the usual standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” that is used in criminal trials.

Using the “preponderance of the evidence” benchmark requires colleges to find a student more likely than not of committing the crime. This means that using only 51 percent of the evidence can prove the guiltiness of the accused, according to the Cornell Law School.

DeVos stated in her speech that while she sympathizes with parents who have to receive the phone call reporting their child has experienced sexual harassment or assault on campus, she does not believe enough due process is given to the accused in the current Title IX provisions.

According to her, the “preponderance of the evidence” standard is too weak and educational institutions must hold all those involved in these cases to a higher burden of proof.

She cited that the current version of Title IX puts victims through too much trauma by having to go through several appeals and does not give the accused proper due process thus creating a collective chaos on campuses.

Following the announcement that the Trump administration would look to alter Title IX, many came out in opposition to DeVos’s speech. Many critics claimed DeVos was “supporting rapists” and using strong victim-blaming rhetoric.

During his vice presidency under Obama, Joe Biden made it a top priority to combat sexual violence on college campuses with his “It’s On Us” campaign. Biden traveled around the country speaking to students about the dangers being a bystander to sexual harassment and assault and for students to speak up and tell their stories in order to stop the cycle.

Following DeVos’s announcement Biden took to Facebook to write, “The truth is, although people don’t want to talk about the brutal reality of sexual assault, especially when it occurs in our most cherished institutions, it is our reality, and it must be faced head-on. And any change that weakens Title IX protections will be devastating.”

According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses also do not report the assault.

Until the final rules and regulations of Title IX are solidified by DeVos and the rest of the Trump administration, most educational institutions say they have no intention of handling their cases of sexual harassment and assault differently. DeVos is expected to announce more changes in the upcoming months.

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