Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last week at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School her plan to begin the process of reforming the current federal guidelines for addressing sexual assaults on college campuses, particularly Title IX.
The Title IX implemented by colleges today was shaped by the Obama administration, which in 2011 issued a directive to colleges informing them that in order to comply with Title IX, the way in which cases of sexual assault were handled had to follow very specific guidelines.
Jessi Hitchins, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, said that Title IX has been around for quite some time.
“Title IX came out of the 1970s women’s movement and at that time, and still today, it’s a very progressive law,” Hitchins said. “There are lots of flaws in it which allows for a lot of interpretation, but it overall allows us to move forward in making sure that we really are mindful of equity.”
The announcement was met with both praise and unease, but DeVos’ decision to allow for public input before making changes leaves room for optimism, her claim that many universities fail to protect the rights of the accused is cause for concern.
According to an analysis of over 10 years of reported cases, between two and 10 percent of allegations are false, and the vast majority of individuals falsely accused are never convicted. The individuals that do commit sexual assault on college campuses? They very often receive minimal sentences or are never convicted.
While she is mulling over the changes to be made to Title IX, meeting with men’s rights groups and no longer requiring investigators to collect information on universities’ past behavior as part of civil rights investigations, DeVos should keep in mind individuals like Brock Turner who after assaulting a woman was only sentenced to six months in jail and was released after three. Another example is Creighton senior Cassie Weck who after being assaulted on Creighton’s campus was assured by the university that they could handle the incident internally. The university found the assailant not responsible for the attack.
DeVos should keep in mind that the trauma of sexual assault will not go away with the conviction or expulsion of the perpetrator, but a chance for justice could prevent the assault from happening to someone else, and it could, at the very least, create a chance for closure. DeVos is correct, the current guidelines could do more to ensure the accused have a fair trial, but universities have a long and tragic history of failing the victims of sexual assault.
DeVos is at a crossroads of sorts, there is no doubt that her next move will greatly impact how assaults are handled on the campuses where they take place much too often, but whether her decision will move campuses forward or backward is yet to be seen.