Today, during a speech at George Mason University, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Trump administration would replace the Obama administration’s 2011 Title IX Guidance to colleges and universities. The guidance was issued because many schools were violating the requirements of Title IX—which directs institutions of higher education to provide equal access to educational opportunities regardless of sex—by ignoring or inadequately responding to widespread complaints of sexual assault by female students. Boston Area Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Gina Scaramella issued the following statement in response:
“We are deeply disappointed with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ decision to replace Title IX Guidance provided by the Obama Administration to colleges and universities. Sexual violence on college campuses is a serious, pervasive issue. According to a survey and report by the Association of American Universities, 11.7% of student respondents across 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact. Rates are highest among undergraduate women and people who identify as transgender, genderqueer or non-conforming, or questioning.
“In the aftermath of such trauma, it is not unusual for student survivors of sexual assault to become depressed and anxious, fall behind in their school work, and even drop out of school. The Title IX Guidance was originally issued because avenues to justice for such students were limited and their education suffered as a result.
“DeVos has suggested creating regional centers where schools can refer cases that 'rise to a criminal level.' The idea that the issue of sexual violence on campus can be sorted out in the criminal justice system is at best naïve. As it is, a mere fraction of all cases of sexual assault—including those for which there is physical evidence—move fully through the criminal justice system. Many of the incidences of college-based sexual assault occur among friends and acquaintances where alcohol or other substances are involved. Physical evidence in these cases is almost always nonexistent. And criminal investigation and prosecution can take years, which does nothing to address the immediate needs of a survivor who may be living in the same dorm, or taking the same classes, as the student who committed the offense. For many survivors, justice may not mean prosecution but rather feeling safe on campus and remaining engaged in their education.
“Current law under both Title IX, passed in 1972, and Title VII, passed in 1964, requires colleges and workplaces to conduct investigations of complaints and to provide a ‘prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee complaints.’
“In the six years since the Title IX Guidance was issued, colleges have made considerable progress in addressing sexual violence on campus. Many schools have directed resources to sexual assault prevention, education, and awareness initiatives. Many have also reached out specifically to vulnerable populations such as LGBQ/T and first-year students, as well as those involved in Greek life. They have offered bystander training on how students can safely intervene or report sexually abusive behavior.
“Today’s announcement sends a confusing message to colleges and universities charged with complying with the requirements of Title IX. It also sends a discouraging and dispiriting message to all students. Those who have been accused of sexual assault as well as survivors deserve an orderly process for adjudication of sexual assault complaints. There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, when the government abdicates its responsibility to enforce the nation’s laws.”