Activists oppose DeVos’s plan to loosen sexual assault rules
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently announced plans to rollback key guidance that clarified protections under Title IX for survivors of sexual assault and harassment on school campuses.
The secretary faces strong resistance from survivors, advocacy groups, progressive lawmakers, students and college administrators.
In a speech in September at George Mason University, DeVos said the Obama administration “weaponized the Office for Civil Rights to work against schools and against students” and “the era of ‘rule by letter’ is over.”
She was referring to what is known as the “Dear Colleague Letter,” issued in 2011 by the Obama administration to clarify that Title IX requires schools to take reasonable action to:
Ensure the safety of survivors of sexual assault.
Have grievance procedures in place for students to file complaints about sex discrimination.
Have training on issues related to sexual assault.
Take immediate and appropriate action to investigate reports of sexual assault or discrimination and determine what recourse is needed.
In her remarks at George Mason, DeVos repeatedly referred to sexual violence as “sexual misconduct.”
“This language is intentional and it has a real impact on survivors’ experiences in their schools, in their communities and in the justice system,” said Casey Harden, interim CEO of the YWCA.
DeVos spoke about the need to protect those accused of sexual assault and the administrators who deal with reports, as well as survivors. She said the Obama administration wrongly framed the issue as “a contest between men and women.”
“Secretary Betsy DeVos’ speech illustrates that the administration has fallen for sexual violence perpetrators’ and rape apologists’ faulty claims — long debunked by research — of rampant false accusations,” said Pennie Meyers, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
After the speech, leaders of some colleges and universities recommitted to adhering to the guidelines, and education associations encouraged members to defend the “Dear Colleague Letter” in comments to the Education Department.
“Secretary DeVos can anticipate a continued call from survivors, students and advocates for full enforcement of Title IX,” said Kimberly Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women.
Meanwhile, activists protested at DeVos’ public appearances, including at Harvard University during her recent speech on school choice. The AP reported some students held up fists.
Also, Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill wrote to President Donald Trump requesting a meeting to discuss campus sexual assault policy. She criticized the administration’s handling of the issue so far and asked to talk with him about working together on new policy.