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#DearBetsy: Protect Title IX

Betsy DeVos’s appointment as the United States Secretary of Education is monumentally problematic. DeVos has no background in education: in fact, her appointment will be her first job held in the field of education. DeVos did not attend public school, yet will have the authority to  make decisions that affect 100,000 public schools and 90% of school-aged children in the country. Even her alma mater, Calvin College, went to lengths to pen an open letter explaining why DeVos was unfit for her position.

Betsy DeVos doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of education advocates and sexual assault activists because she has committed to radical measures of reform, however. Rather, she is feared because she has been totally incapable of putting forward anything more substantive than an irritatingly murky stance on any important education-based issue. In terms of Title IX in particular, DeVos’s failure to commit to securing Title IX guidance and its protections is particularly one of the chief concerns of many activists. When pressed as to whether or not she would uphold Title IX during her confirmation, DeVos responded, “It would be premature for me to do that today.”

Essentially, Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in education by holding schools and institutions responsible for preventing and addressing inequitable, gender-based treatment of students. In terms of sexual assault in particular, Title IX has helped ensure that sexual-assault survivors receive proper and necessary resources following an assault. It aims to eliminate the often inappropriate and irresponsible responses institutions frequently present to student survivors — like dissuading them from pursuing legal action —  and provides the proper guidelines for schools to follow in order to hold themselves accountable to their students. This legislation also insures that the names of schools under investigation for Title IX violations — which can range from LGBT discrimination to sexual assault — will be published. And, as of 2016, the Department of Education also solidified that transgender students would be afforded proper protection.

Beyond DeVos, the Trump administration has made it very clear how they likely feel about preserving Title IX (not to mention civil rights in general). For example, Trump has not only made it clear that he is ambivalent towards the Education Department in general but also that he devalues the principles Title IX protects, as he has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women. That the Trump campaign largely downplayed these allegations serves as an aggressive affront to any possibility that his administration will actively protect citizens from gender-based violence, let alone appropriately and productively deal with perpetrators of sexual assault.

If Title IX and its accompanying protections provided by the Office for Civil Rights are dismantled, current investigations into sexual violence will be slowed, halted or even dropped altogether. The guidelines needed to properly protect and help victims in these ongoing investigations would likely be eliminated. The elimination of these protections are not only scary in and of themselves, but also speak to a greater disinterest in students’ safety: Refusing to enforce Title IX would also mean a broader, omnipresent atmosphere of lawlessness and willful incompetence that would become more pervasive than it already is on campuses. Revoking Title IX quite simply sends the message that sexual assault survivors, and those victimized of sexual-based crimes, just don’t matter, or at least are held in insultingly low priority.

In the wake of this uncertainty, however, activists are committed to continue fighting back against the potential infringements upon their rights and protections. The organizations End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX launched a viral movement to do just that: #DearBetsy, a social media-based conversation that focuses on the importance of insuring Title IX, and which also features related videos and a petition.

And it’s clear we’ll have to continue holding DeVos accountable: just last week, the Trump Administration took action to insure the further marginalization of trans students’ protection under Title IX. We must continue to bombard DeVos with our vocal opposition to discriminatory measures such of these. We should not only simply resist these decisions — by protesting outside of schools, perhaps — but also fight back. We must rectify these problems before they manifest, must hold the roots accountable for the seeds they have planted.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC or WMC Fbomb. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.



More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Education, Feminism, Politics, Violence against women
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexualized violence, Title IX, Rape
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Kadin Burnett
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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