Urge Betsy DeVos to reconsider the Dear Colleague Letter for Title IX
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I am a junior at Sam Houston State University studying Multi-platform Journalism. I am deeply appalled by the effects we will see from Betsy DeVos rescinding Title IX. I was also upset to see that neither of our Texas senators signed the petition from 29 senators, urging DeVos to reconsider. I hope that you will read my thoughts on the subject and truly think about what this will mean for sexual assault survivors. I beg Betsy DeVos to reconsider this, and for our Texas Senators to fight against it.
Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made a statement rescinding the Dear Colleague letter regarding Title IX from the Obama Administration. Though at first glance it may not seem like it, this move made a bigger statement about our government’s prioritization regarding sexual assault survivors or the accused.
This letter gave explicit and clear guidelines, outlining specific regulations, procedures, and expectations. It began by providing alarming statistics of sexual assault victims, giving obvious reasons why these regulations are necessary. It made it clear that they believed schools are a place for students to receive an education in a setting where they feel safe, and particularly that sexual assault survivors should not be required to relive their trauma on a daily basis. This is just one of the many reasons why they believe that schools should be held to an utmost standard in order to provide these well-deserved rights for all students. 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.” It does require schools to allow both parties to present witnesses and other evidence, as well as both be provided “similar and timely access” to information regarding the case.
The benefits of this Dear Colleague letter are extremely evident. It establishes a universal set of guidelines that all schools and universities must follow. This in turn makes it easier to hold schools accountable, and ensures that there are clear expectations. It also allows all students attending all schools, no matter the status, funding, or any other factor, to have access to the same quality of care and pursuance when regarding sexual assault. This letter also makes a distinct effort to protect survivors of sexual assault, expecting schools to make accommodations to allow them to obtain an education in the same safe environment everyone else is afforded.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) states that “one in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.” Those numbers obviously tell us that even with the current standards in place, our peers, friends, and loved ones do not feel comfortable reporting their sexual assault, and live every day struggling with that trauma. This makes the statement that Betsy DeVos made even more impactful. She sent a clear message to sexual assault victims that the handling and prosecution of their assault, their right to a safe environment for an education, and their assault mean less to our government than the rights and comfort of those accused of sexual assault.
Yes, false rape reports do happen. I am a believer that those that falsely accuse individuals of sexual assault should be harshly punished. However, the statistics regarding rape accusations are far lower than how often rape actually occurs. According to NSVRC, that number is as low as 2%-10%. While it should be kept in mind that this does happen, and measures should be taken to ensure that this happens much less frequently, this should not happen at the expense of sexual assault victim’s rights.
In her statement, DeVos urges listeners to remember that we are not talking about “faceless issues;” however, it is easy to see that some faces shine brighter than others for her. She gives equal time discussing failures of Title IX regarding victims of sexual assault, as well as wrongfully accused students. Yet statistics show that these occasions are not balanced. DeVos claims very frequently throughout her statement that this system has failed too many students, yet she does not mention that incredibly high volume of success stories, some that have even occurred on my very own campus.
Furthermore, DeVos makes many misleading comments regarding guidelines outlined in the Dear Colleague letter. Some of these include her reports of schools claiming that they are terrified to approach the department in fear of an investigation being launched. She repeats that schools fear losing their federal funding, even saying that the department puts “improper pressure” on schools. However, how can anyone possibly put too much pressure on an establishment when requiring them to enforce regulations that ensure the sexual safety of their students? Schools should be held above the utmost standards in this regard, ensuring, without a doubt, that their students’ sexual well-being is well taken care of, and their students can safely receive an education. Threatening withdrawal of federal funding is a necessary requirement, ensuring that schools are held accountable for these regulations and make every effort to maintain them. She claims that “the rights of one person can never be paramount to another”, yet is making it clear that she holds the rights of the accused in higher regards than those of the victim’s. She also repeatedly states that the guidelines are vague, unclear, and hard for anyone to understand, yet this couldn’t be far from the truth. I had no problem understanding the regulations, and I have literally no legal training. Some of her claims are just outright untrue, like her statement that students are not allowed lawyers and that the accused are not allowed access to any information regarding the case. DeVos simply proved herself to be either uneducated about the subject, or outright deceptive with her facts.
DeVos makes it obvious that she does not support the determined pursuit of justice for sexual assault victims, and would rather abolish something that, for the most part, is working relatively well. Schools exist first and foremost for education, and every student has the right to pursue that in a comfortable setting. Most importantly, if the issues that DeVos brings to light are as prevalent as they seem to be in her statement, then the problem lies not with the Dear Colleague letter, but with the government’s ability to enforce these standards, as the issues she outlines are all addressed in the Dear Colleague letter. As I would also like to see all parties brought justice when it comes to sexual assault victims and the falsely accused, then I would suggest that DeVos instead look into how she can better enforce the regulations that are currently in place, and better learn what the letter requires of schools. There is no need to replace this policy simply because some schools are not carrying it out correctly. The letter also requires schools to provide adequate education regarding sexual assault, something else that could be better enforced.
DeVos claims that she will take any input on this matter. So if she really wants to hear my input, here it is: it is demeaning, frightening, disheartening, and downright abhorrent to hear our government officials so blatantly downplay the trauma that so many Americans suffer from every day. My input is that they need to step up, and realize that we are real people, suffering from real trauma, and trying to recover in our own ways. Hearing that our government is actively trying to prevent that from happening just goes to show how far distanced they are from the real problems our country faces. I plead this administration to realize the true success stories from this policy, and instead better enforce it, rather than enact the confusion, disappointment, and steps backwards this recension is sure to cause.
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