How you can help stop DeVos’ proposed Title IX regulations
In November, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a proposal for new rules regulating how schools respond to issues like sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and intimate partner violence on their campuses. Obama-era guidelines required that schools adhere to Title IX, legislation that guarantees access to education free from gender discrimination. DeVos’ new rules depart from these guidelines by establishing a narrower definition of sexual harassment and tightening reporting requirements among other changes, according to The New York Times.
While DeVos stated that her intention in revising the guidelines was to “balance the scales of justice,” experts claim she has done the opposite, and instead took harmful steps backward. The proposal is still in the midst of its notice and comment period, during which citizens can air their issues with the proposal.
Ahead of the comment period’s end on January 28, The FBomb recently spoke to Sage Carson, manager of Know Your IX, an organization that aims to empower students to end campus violence through Title IX advocacy, about the dangers of these proposed rules and the importance of writing a comment.
The FBomb: DeVos’ new rules propose a number of changes. Which are you and other activists most worried about?
Sage Carson: These rules require that schools do not investigate or support survivors who have experienced violence off campus or in a school program or activity, and I think that will be the most dangerous for survivors. We know that a lot of violence happens off campus. I myself was assaulted at an off-campus party, and that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to see my abuser every time I went to class. Where the violence happens does not change the impact on a person’s education or the hostile environment that it creates.
Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment to “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” [which DeVos’ proposal does] is also very alarming because it will require that a student’s education has already been impacted before a school is legally required to take action. This is especially dangerous for stalking survivors because we know that stalking escalates in severity and potential for violence.
How will the narrowed definition of sexual harassment intersect with the off-campus rule? For example, if I experience harassment after school hours at home or through technology, how can I show it to be pervasive on campus?
Exactly, it’s very alarming. And that shows why these additions are actually really confusing for students. Survivors should never be thinking, “Well, does this count?” This proposal is setting survivors up to fail, and we’re afraid that people will never come forward in the first place.
While Obama-era guidelines encouraged using written cross-examinations during the adjudication process, DeVos’ rules require a live hearing in which both parties are cross-examined. Why do many survivors take issue with this change?
There are trauma-informed ways to do cross-examination so that both parties can succeed, but [DeVos’ proposed approach] is not it. DeVos’ proposed rules now require live cross-examination from either party’s representation. This sounds OK in theory. But in practice, it could mean that one party has a lawyer and another student has their RA as representation. We also fear inappropriate questions [could be] asked of either party. We have cases in which a survivor went through live cross-examination, and was asked why it seemed she had enjoyed her assault.
We would recommend a written cross-examination, where each party writes questions, a third party from the school reads the questions and decides what is appropriate, and then the third party asks those questions to each student. This way the students don’t need a lawyer for things to be fair and equal.
These new rules are now in the midst of an open comment period. What is at stake and why does Know Your IX feel commenting is so important?
This proposal does nothing to bolster a fair process. It is really just meant to protect schools instead of survivors. This is the only time when student survivors, and students at large, will be able to let their opinions be heard. DeVos has not met with student survivors outside of a single 90-minute meeting. We’ve been cut out of the process every step of the way. For example, last fall, and continuing throughout the year, Know Your IX worked with students to submit their requests to meet with the Department of Education (DoE) and none of their requests were responded to. So we know that our voices were not central to this process, and these rules are really dangerous to survivors. Making sure we’re at the table is what is most important.
Who can and should be commenting?
The notice and comment period is something that is open to the public, but historically it has been utilized mostly by lawyers and major nonprofits. What’s really powerful about this moment is our ability to democratize the process by submitting comments. We’ve tried to make it as simple as possible by providing resources and information about the issue and comment-writing process.
All students and their families should be commenting. Even if you only know a little bit about Title IX, or if you’ve had a friend that experienced violence, this is a space in which we can all engage and support survivors. For example, when I was a student, I was able to use Title IX to get extensions on my papers, to change housing, and to get my scholarship moved so that I was able to stay in school. DeVos’ proposed rules would mean that my school would never have had to do any of those things in the first place. We know that a third of students that are assaulted in college drop out. We fear now that this number only going to rise.
How can the comment process potentially stop the proposal?
After the comment period closes, the DoE has to review the comments. After they do that, they have to change the rule to respond to those comments or argue in front of a judge that their reason for not changing it is better than the reasoning of all those who submitted comments. Advocates can then sue if they fail to do this. It’s a boring legal battle, but the stories and experiences of students are what win those fights.
How do you think schools and student organizations can show support to survivors during this difficult time?
I think this is a time to build community. It should not always be on survivors to do all the work. If this is important to you and you’re not a survivor, host a comment writing party or create a space for people to come together and support one another that doesn’t rely on survivors always putting their own trauma at the forefront. We still rely on folks who experience violence to raise the alarm, but this important for all of us. Just show up, engage in the process, do the work.
If you would like to submit a comment, check out resources available at KnowYourIX.org and submit your opinion at regulations.gov.
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