In responding to Sen. Bob Casey's questions regarding Title IX during her confirmation hearing, then nominee Betsy DeVos vowed to work together to "find some resolutions".
We shouldn’t be surprised that an administration whose titular head was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women and later dismissed it as “locker room talk”, would appoint an Education Secretary who’s stance toward sexual assault on college campuses is basically a “boys will be boys” approach. We also shouldn’t be surprised based on her answers to questions from our own Senator Casey during her confirmation hearing that Betsy DeVos was not going to be a champion for victims’ rights. But lack of surprise doesn’t make Betsy DeVos’ recent pronouncements any more palatable.
In another act from the current administration of what I like to call, “Deconstructing Barry” (Barry, aka Barak Obama), DeVos is looking to rescind protections for victims of sexual assault guaranteed in Title IX and clarified by a “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL) from the Obama administration to public institutions in 2011. At an event on Thursday at George Mason University that was invitation-only (i.e. closed to opposition voices), DeVos declared that the Obama administration had gone too far in protecting the rights of sexual assault survivors.
But two survivors, Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky, in their Friday Washington Post article, “Betsy DeVos’s Title IX interpretation is an attack on sexual assault survivors”, describe the DCL this way:
“The 2011 letter set out specifically that ‘sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.’ It empowered campus sexual assault survivors like us to walk into meetings with school officials knowing that colleges couldn’t push us to withdraw from school until our perpetrators graduated. (One of us was told to drop out of school until her rapist finished his degree.) Our schools had to provide us the accommodations we needed to stay in school, such as free counseling, and help students switch out of class sections shared with the individuals charged with assaulting them. The letter outlined our right to learn alongside our peers, making clear to our schools that they could no longer count on our ignorance keeping us in the shadows.”
At the Thursday event, DeVos went on to misrepresent what was outlined in the Dear Colleague Letter, saying the law unfairly denies due process rights to those accused of sexual assault. This in spite of the fact that as Laura Dunn, a rape victim and founder of SurvJustice, points out, “Courts have repeatedly found minimum due procedural safeguards sufficient under the 14th Amendment for disciplinary matters handled through campus-level hearings.”
When asked in a recent interview if she plans on rescinding the Obama administration guidelines, DeVos responded by saying that that is her intention, but it’s going to be “a process not an event”. DeVos plans to hold a public comment session regarding the issue, which is laughable at best, since it seems her mind is already made up. Part of her “process”, which she calls a “notice and comment” is to listen to input from both sides. But Bolger and Brodsky point out in their article:
“In DeVos’s only meeting with sexual assault survivors, which one of us attended, we spoke about the importance of the Dear Colleague Letter for student survivors like us. DeVos’s office has been flooded with comments urging retention of the policy outlined in the Dear Colleague Letter. When she spoke Thursday, she misled, saying ‘Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved’ — making it clear that her listening tour was for show and that she plans to make policy based on an unrepresentative portion of the feedback she’s received."
Further underscoring DeVos’ apparent bias, Senator Casey presciently pointed out during her confirmation hearing (at which point, like a reverse Cheshire cat, DeVos’ smile disappeared faster than her collegial demeanor) that DeVos had personally donated to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an institution which supports a bill that among other things would force a victim to go to police to report an incident and would change the standard of evidence as it exists under the Obama administration guidelines.
Apparently the opinion of PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro hasn’t swayed DeVos either. In July Shapiro sent a letter co-signed by 19 other state attorneys general to DeVos urging her not to undermine the protections of the DCL. "We're calling on Secretary DeVos to listen to law enforcement and trust survivors of sexual assault by keeping these protections in place and putting student safety first," Attorney General Shapiro said in a statement.
"Violence on America's campuses must be taken seriously," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, one of the co-signers, said. Balderas noted that, "rolling back the guidance (Obama's DCL) would amount to turning back the clock on the progress some states have made when it comes to improving reporting and implementing programs aimed at curbing sexual assaults."
Ed. Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to turn back the clock? Are we surprised?
What is Title IX?
Why schools have to respond to sexual violence:
Both Title IX and the Clery Act require educational institutions that receive federal funding to address reports of sexual violence independent of any criminal process. While sexual violence can sometimes constitute a crime, it is also a form of misconduct that institutions must internally address as well. Therefore, victims always have the option both to go to law enforcement to make a criminal report and to go to campus to have it respond to the misconduct. Under the Clery Act, victims have the right to decline to report to law enforcement so institutions cannot require it.
Unlike the criminal system, campus processes offer more immediate support and remedies for victims to ensure they can continue accessing educational opportunities and benefits. Another key difference is that campuses are limited in their ability to address misconduct to ultimately removing perpetrators from campus (i.e. expulsion, no trespass orders) as a final sanction, whereas the criminal system can impose severe criminal penalties, such as arrest, jailing, prison sentences, and criminal fines.
What are a school's obligations under Title IX?
Who was Patsy Mink?
Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink (D) Hawaii, was a third generation Japanese American and the first Asian woman elected to Congress. She was also the first Democratic woman to deliver a State of the Union response in 1970. In 1972, Mink sought the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party. She co-authored the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act. Mink authored introduced the Early Childhood Education Act and authored the Women's Educational Equality Act. In 2002 the Title IX Amendment was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
posted by Amy Levengood