It's no secret that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos planned to make some major changes to addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses, but it looks like she might actually be trying to make those ideas into a reality. Betsy DeVos' reported new sexual misconduct policy is not only a huge shift from Obama-era regulations, but it might be bad news for sexual assault survivors. Good news is that nothing is finalized yet.
On Wednesday, Aug. 29, The New York Times obtained the rules that would reportedly be included in DeVos' policy proposal around sexual misconduct on campus. Not only will the proposed policy reportedly narrow the definition of sexual harassment and assault, but it will supposedly increase the rights of those accused and only hold institutions accountable when complaints are filed through the authorities and when the incident occurs on campus.
In a statement shared with Elite Daily, U.S. Department of Education Press Secretary Liz Hill, says:
We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative and therefore we have no comment.
The new rules would reportedly maintain a policy of using mediation to resolve sexual harassment complaints, and add the ability for accusers and accused to request evidence from or cross examine each other, according to the Times. They would reportedly also explicitly define "sexual harassment" as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” The schools would reportedly also only be legally responsible for addressing formal complaints made to school officials — not, for example, people like resident advisors in dorms — and events that officials have "actual knowledge" happened.
Since taking the role as secretary of education in February 2017, DeVos certainly hasn't had the warmest reception from students and the United States' public alike. Right from the beginning, DeVos was under fire from the public when she couldn't seem to answer basic questions involving equality and inclusion, and misinterpreted the term "growth" during her confirmation hearing. A rocky start to say the least.
In September 2017, DeVos rescinded a 2011 letter prepared by Barack Obama which gave guidance on addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses. Unlike DeVos' proposed policy, the Obama-era guidance held colleges and other higher learning institutions to stricter accountability for students' complaints about sexual harassment and other forms of misconduct. DeVos referred to the guidelines as a "federal overreach" in her walkback, saying,
The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students. 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.
According to The Hill, DeVos' proposal would preserve a lot of what's already in Title IX, an order that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational institutions and has been understood to cover sexual harassment and assault, but the changes would definitely make an impact. If the proposal passes, then this would mark the first time higher institutions of learning would have a codified definition of sexual harassment and the legal obligations in addressing it. Importantly, "sexual harassment" would have a far more narrow definition.
In addition to addressing sexual misconduct on campus, DeVos has also made a few changes that will greatly impact transgender students. In February, the Education Department announced that transgender students' bathroom complaints do not fall under Title IX. This subject has been a long drawn out topic among Congress, especially since the term "sex" isn't explicitly defined in Title IX, and therefore could defined as sex assigned at birth or an individual's gender identity.
With student welfare at stake, let's hope DeVos gives a thorough look over these regulations. As every student knows, proof reading your work for errors is important.