Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sued for weakening Title IX policies

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sued for weakening Title IX policies

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Title IX of the United States Department of Labor’s Education Amendments states 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.” This amendment requires that in order for schools to be federally funded, they must provide certain protections against discrimination for students of any gender identity. This applies to schools from kindergarten all the way through college.

One of the most important things this amendment covers is cases of sexual violence on college campuses. Schools are prohibited from retaliating against the student filing the complaint and are required to take certain protective actions to keep those involved safe and further away from their alleged attackers. Additionally, schools cannot use a sexual assault case as a means to discourage or suspend a victim’s education. Much of Title IX’s expansion and clarification occurred in 2011, under the administration of Barack Obama, who called on schools to increase their Title IX work at risk of being defunded.

At MU, the Office for Civil Rights & Title IX is dedicated to the protection of these rights and handles reports of discrimination based on sex and race on campus. The Obama-era setup of Title IX is important to the University of Missouri because according to a survey conducted in 2017, 52 percent of MU students had experienced sexual harassment, mostly coming from other students. The same survey found that one in four MU women had fallen victim to sexual assault.

In 2017, after being inaugurated as president, Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as the new secretary of education. Last September, Devos chastised Obama’s Title IX plans as unfair and began pushing policy that would work to protect those accused of sexual assaults. By enabling colleges to have more freedom in evaluating cases of sexual assault, Obama’s gains in making schools provide more support for victims of sexual assault were reversed. Now, in order for victims to prove an individual committed assault, they no longer need a “preponderance of evidence” but instead “clear and convincing evidence,” which makes it more difficult to prosecute the accused.

Two weeks ago, SurvJustice, Equal Rights Advocates and the Victim Rights Law Center announced they are joining to file a suit against DeVos’ Title IX policy. These groups feel DeVos’ ideas are discriminatory and are causing schools to lose effectiveness in dealing with cases of sexual assault. In a claim, SurvJustice stated that “As an organization that provides direct assistance and referral services to survivors of sexual violence, SurvJustice’s core mission and daily operations have been and will continue to be impeded by the chilling effect that the 2017 Title IX policy has had and continues to have on the reporting of sexual violence.”

MU’s Office for Civil Rights & Title IX’s website states, “These policies were updated in February 2017 and the new processes went into effect March 1, 2017. Reports or complaints filed on or after March 1, 2017 will be resolved under the new, revised processes.” Thus far, MU’s Title IX office has not commented on DeVos’ policy changes, hopefully indicating that the campus is continuing to evaluate sexual assault cases in the same way as before. With a significant number of assaults occurring at colleges across the nation, it’s imperative that the legislation schools must follow in dealing with these cases is upheld and that victims are able to get support and assistance in filing a claim against their assaulter without having to provide “clear and convincing evidence.” What is “clear and convincing,” though, is DeVos’ lack of attention to the statistics on assault on college campuses and how the agenda should be reducing these numbers as opposed to making it easier for perpetrators of these crimes to get away unscathed.

Edited by Claire Colby | ccolby@themaneater.com

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