Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary for the Trump Administration, has caused a new firestorm of criticism after she announced her plans to rewrite an Obama-era guidance policy for colleges and universities on how to deal with sexual assaults on campuses. She believes the system needs to be revamped to better protect students who are accused.
DeVos was speaking at George Mason University’s Arlington, Va., campus when she said the Obama administration helped raise the issue of sexual assault in American public life and gave guidance in 2011 with good intentions, but good intentions alone are not enough.
“Justice demands humility, wisdom, and prudence,” she said. “It requires a serious pursuit of truth.”
The new plan from DeVos was quickly criticized by civil rights advocates. “This is another cruel, heartless move from the Discrimination Administration,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement following the secretary’s remarks.
“President Trump and Secretary DeVos are inviting schools to return to the days when survivors were shamed, blamed, ignored, and abandoned. Make no mistake: Title IX is working, and the only reason for this move is to legitimize discrimination and promote dangerous myths about rape.”
The Education Secretary said that she held a summit to understand all perspectives in these cases: survivors, falsely accused students and educational institutions — both K-12 and higher education.
“We are having this conversation with and for all students,” she said. DeVos said that the previous system failed too many students. She said survivors, victims of false accusations and campus administrators have all told her that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.
“That’s why we must do better because the current approach isn’t working,” she said. “Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate.”
DeVos claims that the current system has led to hundreds of cases in the Office of Civil Rights filed by both students who reported sexual misconduct and those who feel they were wrongly punished for sexual misconduct. Both sides believe their schools let them down. The secretary said that any school that fails to respond to a report of sexual assault commits severe discrimination, but she also added that a school that uses a biased system in finding someone guilty of sexual assault also commits discrimination.
“The rights of one person can never be paramount to the rights of another,” she said.
The Department of Education will begin a public notice and comment period to garner public input on finding a better way to enforce the Title IX sex discrimination laws. They hope to create a better system to protect the rights of all students.
Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a leading national women’s advocacy group, said the thought that there needs to be more of a focus on the rights of the accused would be “laughable if it weren’t so terrifying and outright dangerous.”
“With one-in-four women sexually assaulted while in college — we are facing a national rape epidemic on our campuses, and today’s announcement makes clear that Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump are more concerned with protecting perpetrators than the survivors they sexually assaulted. Sadly, given Trump’s own history of bragging about sexual assault, I guess we should not be surprised. There are no two sides when it comes to rape. Period,” Chaudhary said.
DeVos defended her position against her detractors in her address on Thursday, “Survivors aren’t well served when they are re-traumatized with appeal after appeal because the failed system failed the accused,” she said. “And no student should be forced to sue their way to due process.”
20 Democratic state Attorneys, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, sent a letter to DeVos in July urging her to maintain the current sexual assault guidelines for college campuses.
“The Department of Education’s current guidance reaffirms the obligation of colleges and universities to protect survivors of sexual assault. Among other provisions, the guidance reaffirms that Title IX requires institutions to use a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard in investigating allegations of sexual harassment or domestic violence,” they wrote. “While we recognize that there is a great deal more that can be done to protect students and agree on the importance of ensuring that investigations are conducted fairly, a rushed, poorly-considered effort to roll back current policies sends precisely the wrong message to all students.”
What are your thoughts about DeVos’ plan to revamp the policy on sexual assault? You can listen to a portion of her address below.
Credit: The Hill