DeVos rebukes Obama era letter regarding Title IX

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College campuses around America are due for a change after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made a statement last week rescinding the Dear Colleague Letter regarding Title IX from the Obama Administration.

A transcript of DeVos’ full statement, as well as the full video can be found here.

A Dear Colleague Letter is a letter sent from a legislative member to his peers detailing possible new bills and legislation. The letter criticized by DeVos was released in April 2011 by then-Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

While a letter such as this has no legal or policy ramifications, it can signal changes to come, the very beginnings of plans to move in one direction or another. By signaling her disapproval of the Obama administration letter, DeVos is signaling future plans for change.

The letter elaborates on the responsibilities schools have in upholding their Title IX regulations, particularly regarding sexual harassment and assault. This letter gave guidelines, outlining specific regulations, procedures and expectations. They call on schools to be “impartial, prompt, and thorough” in their investigations, providing rights to both the complainant and the accused. However, “schools should ensure that steps taken to afford due process rights to the alleged perpetrator do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the Title IX protections for the complainant.”

You can read the letter here.

College students are the most affected by this change. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) states that “one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

This is why many believe that Title IX is essential for the protection of students’ education. DeVos stated, “Title IX has helped to make clear that educational institutions have a responsibility to protect every student’s right to learn in a safe environment and to prevent unjust deprivations of that right.”

DeVos had more to say, however.

“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,” DeVos said.

Specifically, on the campus of Sam Houston State University, at least one student has found Title IX to be beneficial. Senior English major Kennedy Lundberg was sexually assaulted during her first few weeks at SHSU. She spent a year trying to recover, and eventually decided the assault hindered her life to the point where she needed help. She attended counseling on campus, and there received the courage to come forward about her assault and report it to Title IX.

“Choosing to report is an entirely uphill battle in itself when you not only feel that you might not deserve justice,” Lundberg said. “But that the entirety of the justice system doesn’t value your experiences, sanity, or rights.”

Similar to many other sexual assault survivors, Lundberg didn’t feel comfortable reporting to authorities. She felt less intimidated reporting through the Title IX process.

“Title IX’s operations offered specific on-campus protection while I continued on with my education, officials trained in responding to accusations of sexual assault, and was, frankly, less intimidating than walking into a police station to talk about my traumatic experience,” Lundberg said.

This process on college campuses involves the survivor first reporting to the Title IX investigator or a university employee. Following a discussion with the investigator, both the complainant and the accused are notified, if the complainant decides to move forward. At this point, the complainant can still receive all of the protection Title IX provides through accommodations without pursuing an investigation.

Both parties then compile witnesses and evidence they think will prove to be beneficial, which the investigator then considers, along with both parties’ accounts. These are compiled into an account, which is given to the director to make a decision. The accused and the complainant are notified again, and can then decide over the next several days if they would like to appeal the decision with different officials. If it is decided that Title IX regulations have been violated, it is handed on to the proper officials.

Although Lundberg lost her case, she still felt like she benefitted from the process. Lundberg thinks DeVos’ plans will discourage other students to report.

“I stood up for myself and was attempting to make a difference,” Lundberg said. “Restructuring the way Title IX operates now will be hugely discouraging to anyone who may be considering reporting and will be misinterpreted by a community that largely is unaware of the real life effects of being sexually assaulted or abused.”

SHSU Title IX Coordinator Jeanine Bias is a firm believer in Title IX as a necessity on campus.

“This is a process that is effective for everybody,” Bias said.

Bias ensured that they truly make an effort to look out for both sides and the best interest of everyone involved. She also suggested that individuals with questions can find our policy outlined in the Texas State University System’s misconduct policy, as well as on SHSU’s Title IX page, here.

DeVos’ main reasoning for the removal of the Dear Colleague letter is the disservice it proves to be for the falsely accused individuals. However, NSVRC reports that as little as one to ten percent of sexual assault accusations turn out to be false. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) states that an astounding 321,500 cases of sexual assault are reported yearly, and that does not include the cases of individuals under the age of 12 and the cases that go unreported, an estimated two out of three cases.

“We shouldn’t be operating under the assumption that all of the accused are innocent and making their lives more comfortable when their victims suffer far more than just during the reporting process itself,” Lundberg said.

DeVos implies that the current policy is more focused on victims’ right, saying, “The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the ‘victim’ only creates more victims.”

However, Bias sees the policy differently.

“Right now a lot of concerns that were raised as far as the accused are in our policy,” Bias said. “Based on our policy, there is due process for both the complainant and the accused.”

Her general opinion is that we may not be entirely affected, as we already follow the policy closely.

“A lot of what the secretary of education is talking about are unique situations and they don’t reflect what our offices are seeing on a day to day basis,” Bias said.

As for the changes we will see on our campus regarding the Title IX policy, Bias is prepared.

“If there are changes, then we’ll make them and adjust and move forward, but we will also keep the best interest of our students in mind,” Bias said.

While Title IX itself isn’t under any danger of going anywhere, the specifics of the process may be changed. As with any legislation that has such a role in governing people in difficult times, changes will be polarizing, for good or bad.

For any questions regarding Title IX, resources available, or SHSU’s current policy, visit http://shsu.edu/titleix