Betsy DeVos and Title IX

By Alison Jue (SCR ’20)

On September 17th, 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced at George Mason University that the Department of Education would begin to change the manner sexual misconduct is handled and investigated on college campuses. DeVos described plans to rescind policies that were introduced in both the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972 and in a Dear Colleague Letter championed by Barack Obama. Title IX is a law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program that is federally funded. The Dear Colleague Letter  released during Barack Obama’s presidency provides educational institutions guidelines on how to ensure they are in compliance with Title IX. Propelling DeVos towards rolling back the Dear Colleague guidelines were the students who have been wrongly accused in a sexual misconduct case. These students feel that the Obama-era policies are biased against the accused and do not allow them proper due process of law. However, critics of DeVos argue that the Dear Colleague policies already include protections for the accused and that a repeal of these guidelines is doing a disservice to those who are survivors of sexual assault.

This essay seeks to explore Title IX and its effects on how sexual assault cases are handled on college campuses. This essay will begin by providing a brief history of Title IX and then discuss what Secretary DeVos wants to reform. Finally, this paper will lay out the threatened benefits that Title IX has on college campuses and contend that Title IX does not need to be altered in any way because it provides resources, benefits, and equality to all students.

I- A Brief History and Overview of Title IX
The ideology behind Title IX can be traced back to other social movements. Beginning in the 1950’s with the Civil Rights Movement, African-American communities started to achieve small victories in their pursuit for equal rights, ultimately succeeding when in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protected against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in regards to employment.[1] Title IX was also inspired by the Vocational Equity Act of 1963 which required that states who receive federal funding for vocational programs must eradicate any bias on the basis of sex and discrimination.[2] Similar to the Vocational Equity Act, Title IX stipulates that schools receiving federal funding must make an effort to rid their campus of any threat to sexual misconduct. On July 1st, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, which had been championed by Representative Edith Green of Ohio.

Once President Nixon signed Title IX into law, it took the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare three years to craft the exact stipulations and regulations into place.[3] The stipulations of a bill determine how it is enforced, regulated, and interpreted. Finally on May 27th, 1975, President Ford signed the Title IX regulations into effect. The regulations included in Title IX can still be seen today on many college campuses. One of the stipulations that Title IX includes is that schools receiving federal funds must designate at least one Title IX coordinator who  will oversee any complaints of sexual discrimination and must also oversee compliance efforts for the school system they have been assigned.[4] Additionally, Title IX requires that all students and employees must be notified of the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of their Title IX coordinators and grievance procedures must be made public.[5] Finally, schools receiving federal funding must perform self-evaluations and make improvements to systems that are not in compliance with Title IX.[6]

In 2011, school administrators received further clarification on how Title IX should be interpreted and implemented when Arne Duncan- the Secretary of Education under former President Barack Obama- released a Dear Colleague Letter that provided specific guidelines for schools to follow in order to be in compliance with Title IX. One of the biggest takeaways from the Dear Colleague Letter is that any form of sexual violence-whether that be sexual assault, sexual coercion, or sexual battery- is a form of harassment that violates Title IX and is the responsibility of schools to handle sexual assault on college campus. The letter also urges that if a school becomes aware of possible harassment, they must “take immediate action to eliminate harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effect.”[7] This stipulation ensures that schools protect students who have been possibly harassed and pushes schools to make sure that incidents of harassment do not happen again. Another important takeaway from the Dear Colleague Letter is that it “provides guidance and examples about key Title IX requirements and how they relate to sexual violence, such as the requirements to publish a policy against sex discrimination, designate a Title IX coordinator, and adopt and publish grievance procedures.”[8] These exact stipulations establish measurable standards colleges must proactively take in regards to sexual assault on campus. It ensured that schools had adequate examples and fully understood what it meant to be in compliance with Title IX; by having clearer examples and guidelines, it made it easier for schools to reassure their students that they would be fully protected if they endured any sort of sexual harassment.

II- What Secretary DeVos Wants to Rollback
In her speech given at George Mason University, Betsy DeVos was quoted saying, “Here is what I’ve learned: 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 told me that the current approach does a massive disservice to everyone.”[9] In this quote, DeVos makes known that she thinks the current process of investigating sexual assault on college campuses is not a fair process. She believes that everyone involved in the process, whether that be victims of sexual assault or students who have been accused of harassing someone, are not treated equally or given a fair chance. Although the Dear Colleague Letter has provisions that act to ensure a fair and due legal process for those who have been accused of sexual assault, DeVos still believes that the process of investigating a sexual assault claim is unfair to those who have been accused. Additionally, DeVos went on to attack the Dear Colleague Letter by saying “Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate” and that “the era of ‘rule by letter’ is over.”[10] These quotes are directly related to the Dear Colleague Letter that former President Barack Obama championed. During his term, the Department of Education helped to create and enforce the Dear Colleague Letter that offered so many protections to students. But now that Donald Trump has taken office and Betsy DeVos is now the Secretary of Education, she is looking to change these policies. Although DeVos states that the guidelines under the Letter can be confusing to those trying to interpret it, the Letter was meant to clear up any murky territory about what was expected under Title IX. It is hard to believe that DeVos has a hard time understanding what the Dear College Letter is trying to outline because the Letter was crafted in order to make clearer what exactly Title IX was trying to accomplish and how to be compliant under it.

III- Benefits and Protections of Title IX
In regards to sexual assault, Title IX provides many different protections to students. Below are some of the most important protections that Title IX provides to students who have been sexually harassed. If Betsy DeVos were to rollback Title IX, these are some of the rules and guidelines that could be in jeopardy of being rescinded.

The first major rule that could be lost if Title IX is rescinded is the act to ensure the campus is not a hostile environment.[11] This protection ensures that a college or university must make sure that a student who has filed a complaint about sexual harassment is still comfortable enough to attend school. If a student feels uncomfortable, the school must do its best to accommodate the student and eliminate possible threats to that student. If this rule under Title IX would be changed, students would have to live in fear of being sexually assaulted again and this could affect their overall well-being on campus.

Additionally, under Title IX must promptly investigate and respond to complaints.[12] This protection ensures that colleges must look into and respond to complaints about sexual harassment; because of this right, colleges cannot sweep any accusation of sexual misconduct under the rug and falsely promise students that their complaint will be investigated. This is important because it guarantees that no complaint will be left unheard. If DeVos were to rollback this guideline of Title IX, then colleges would not be responsible to investigate a sexual harassment claim. They could prioritize one complaint over another or, in a worst case scenario, ignore a complaint all together. This is an important part of Title IX because it makes sure that victims are given answers.

Another rule that could be lost is the right of students to receive accommodations, including counseling, needed to learn.[13] When a student has been sexually assaulted, it can be extremely hard for them to carry on with their daily lives, including attending class and turning in assignments. This right allows students the opportunity to seek any accommodations they may need to make education easier for them. Whether that be an extension on assignments, extra time on an exam, or excused absences, schools are required to work with students to make sure that after they have gone through such a traumatizing event, they are allowed to continue their education in a way that is conducive to them. If Betsy DeVos were to alter Title IX and abolish this right, students would not receive any help from the college and would be expected to continue on without any academic support. This could overwhelm many students and cause some to reconsider continuing higher education.

The fourth rule that could be rolled back is the right to provide the opportunity to be accompanied by an advisor of choice to a disciplinary hearing.[14] One of the ways that students can seek support after being sexually harassed is to have an advisor present with them at a hearing. This allows for a student to have someone they feel comfortable with help them navigate a tough situation and provide any comfort that they can. This is important for students who need support but do not want certain people being aware of the situation.

The fifth major stipulation that could be revoked from students is the right to right to receive violence prevention from the school.[15] Understanding how to protect oneself and avoid sexual harassment is an important factor in making sure that incidents on campus are reduced. Although victims should never be blamed for being sexually assaulted and the fault should always fall on the person attempting to harm another person, it is still crucial to have an understanding of how to prevent sexual assault in any way possible. If Betsy DeVos were to roll back this right, students would receive less education on how to be less susceptible to sexual assault.


IV- Effects of Title IX
The counter discriminatory effects of Title IX can be seen in all aspects of college education. For example, women in athletics has increased; by 1995, women made up thirty-seven percent of college athletes compared to fifteen percent in 1972.[16] Although Title IX is usually known as the amendment that gave women the chance to play high school and college athletics while receiving the same funding as male sports, the total number of women attaining a Bachelors of Arts degree has increased by 38 percent since Title IX has gone into effect.[17] These effects are a direct result of Title IX because it pushes for the equality of women.


V- Conclusion
When it comes to education, President Trump’s main policy goals focus around school choice at the K-12 level. President Trump wants to cut money for literacy programs, teacher training, and after-school programs. Although sexual assaults are a continuing problem on college campuses across the country, President Trump’s attention has been focused more on school choice and phasing out student loan forgiveness. Although Trump sees these as important items on his agenda, when will he consider the safety of students and the effect of rolling back Title IX guidelines?



[1] Valentin, Iram. “Title IX: A Brief History.” 2 Holy Cross J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 123, 138 (1997)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Archived: Dear Colleague Letter from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali. — Printable. Accessed November 13, 2017.

[8] Klein Wheaton, Kristin (2017) “Legal Issues in Higher Education,” Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy: Vol. 0 , Article 63.

[9] Svrluga, Susan. “Transcript: Betsy DeVos’s remarks on campus sexual assault.” The Washington Post. September 07, 2017. Accessed October 01, 2017.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Title IX Under the Trump Administration: Know Your Rights.” Know Your IX. Accessed November 13, 2017.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Valentin, Iram. “Title IX: A Brief History.” 2 Holy Cross J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 123, 138 (1997)

[17] Ibid.

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