BARCC is submitting public comment to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos detailing the reasons why the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education (OCR-DOE) should not adopt a proposed Title IX rule related to responding, investigating and adjudicating reports of sexual assault and misconduct in schools that receive federal funding. (Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities.)
As we stated in our comment, BARCC believes the proposed rule “reinforces myths about sexual violence, favors offenders, and undermines procedural justice for survivors.” That is unfortunate given the epidemic of campus sexual assault and harassment and its effect on survivors, who may become “depressed and anxious, fall behind in their school work, and even drop out of school.” We can and must do better by survivors if we are to change campus climate around sexual assault.
The following excerpt from our comment on how the new proposed rule will result in remedies that come too late to help survivors of sexual violence is the third in a series of five blog posts that break down our reasons for opposing it. Read parts one and two.
Under the proposed rule, the definition of sexual harassment is narrowed to such an extent that a school would not be obligated to respond to a formal complaint unless the complaint reported a physical assault; a request for sexual contact in exchange for “an aid, benefit, or service” that is otherwise freely available at the school, such as grades based solely on academic performance; or actions that are “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the [school’s] education program or activity.”
This definition excludes far more common manifestations of sexual harassment such as making sexually demeaning threats or jokes, or threats passed off as jokes. This behavior is pervasive in college athletics programs and, if left unchecked, can result in significant harm. For example, between at least 2013 and 2015, the Amherst College men’s cross country teams maintained an e-mail thread containing sexually demeaning, offensive, and vulgar observations about female students at the school as well as other comments that were racist, homophobic, and transphobic. When one member of the team described the thread as “one of the most fucked up things” he’d ever read, the team captains said that comments on the e-mail chain were not meant to be taken seriously, with one writing, “please know that most everything said on the e-mail chain is a joke.” The athlete who complained about Amherst College cross-country team e-mail thread ultimately transferred to another school because of “the toxic athletic culture he experienced on the men’s cross-country team.” Meanwhile, two years after it was reported that the Harvard men’s soccer team maintained a Google doc that contained sexually explicit and offensive descriptions of the physical appearances of athletes on the women’s team, one of the affected athletes, who quit the women’s team as a result, wrote that she continues to struggle with the effects of the harassment.
Since the proposed new rule does not require corrective action until severe harm has occurred, it encourages schools to respond to complaints of Title IX violations in ways that are all but guaranteed to come too late to help.
If you agree that this would only make things worse, then please join us in urging the U.S. Department of Education to reconsider its proposed new regulations for Title IX by submitting a public comment by Wednesday, January 30, at 11:59 p.m.
Wondering how to make your comment effective? Here are a few tips:
- Use your own words for the most impact! Your comment is more likely to be taken into consideration if it’s not a duplicate message from a template.
- Incorporate personal stories to support your arguments.
- If you have a particular perspective or expertise, whether as a survivor, an advocate, a lawyer, etc., make note of it!
- Include suggested solutions to your concerns. We don’t just want to say what’s wrong; we also want to help guide how the problems can be fixed.
Read part four in this series.
Updated January 24, 2019, to reflect new public comment deadline.