Ac­tivists op­pose DeVos’s plan to loosen sex­ual as­sault rules

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Lisa Neff Staff writer

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.

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