Last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced she would change the sexual-assault policy guidelines defined under Title IX and reinforced by the Obama administration. According to Vox, the regulations say, “Even if the police are investigating allegations of rape or sexual assault, colleges must also conduct their own investigations to ensure the victim’s right to an education is not being violated. That’s in part because colleges can do things the police can’t — like shifting dorm assignments or class schedules so a student doesn’t have to come in contact with the person she accused of rape.”
In 2011, “the Obama administration sent a letter, known as a “Dear Colleague letter,” to colleges and universities, reminding them of this obligation. Technically, those letters aren’t a formal rule change. But because the ultimate penalty for Title IX violations can be a loss of federal funding — a death knell for colleges that depend on federal student loans and grants — the guidance had teeth. (No college has ever been denied federal funding for a Title IX violation; usually, the Education Department reaches an agreement with the college that it will change its policies.)”
After DeVos made her announcement at the Antonin Scalia School of Law named after the ultra-conservative former justice, there was an immediate outcry from feminists across the nation as reported in a Ms. Magazine column “25 Feminists Break Down Why We Must #StopBetsy and Stand With Campus Sexual Assault Survivors.” The American Association of University Women also criticized the speech saying, “It is yet another action by this administration that is at direct odds with upholding the civil rights of all Americans.”
Some might have believed that was the universal opinion of women on the left until reading Ruth Marcus’s column in the Washington Post “Sexual-assault policy on campus made better. Maybe.” After reading that, you realized there were some who thought the current policy directions need to be reviewed. The scary thing for women, and for correct-thinking men, is the policy is being reviewed by DeVos and others in the Trump administration who have never cared about protecting women or ensuring their equality. In some cases just the opposite.
Again according to Vox in 2014, “a group of 28 Harvard Law School professors took an unprecedented step of writing a letter pushing back on the Obama guidance, saying it had caused Harvard’s administration to overcorrect to the extreme.”
Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program and one of the professors who signed the letter said, “I think they created an environment where schools felt in order to keep their federal funding, they had to change their policies to ones stacked against anybody accused.”
So what needs to be done is to focus on DeVos’s statement “the Education Department will open the issue up for public comment — the first step in potentially writing new regulations.” We need to ensure a widespread response from everyone with a rational view of this issue. Women from across the nation and especially college women need to write to the Department of Education with their experiences and views on this issue. They need to share their reactions to how the Obama guidance impacted them and their friends at their colleges and universities.
Thinking men must also comment. Men who understand the simple rule “No means no” and who are prepared to abide by that. At the same time we need to talk about sex education in our schools.
Supporting appropriate and comprehensive sex-education programs has been a big problem for many in the Trump administration and the right wing that elected him. It is crucial we educate both boys and girls at a young age about sex and about respect for each other when it comes to sex. We need to talk about drugs and alcohol and how they impact people’s perceptions of right and wrong. We need to teach them they aren’t an excuse for bad behavior and for doing the wrong thing. That education needs to start early.
What is crucial is we can’t let the Trump administration continue to retreat on every issue of equality and the rights of women, the LGBT community and every minority community. We have to stand up and resist all their attempts to do so. We can do that by marching, speaking out, responding to the request for comments request in this case and by supporting and voting for Democrats across every level of government.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.