How Besty DeVos Title IX suggestions might affect universities

Words by: Ashton Vogelhuber and Linda Stocum

Besty DeVos is deciding on how to change Title IX.

On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments was enacted by Congress and signed into law by Richard Nixon.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving any type of federal financial aid. Below is a guide explaining what Title IX is and how it applies to college campuses.

The courts have explained how this affects sexual assault reporting. The New Yorker describes how courts decided how Title IX affects campuses, “The law itself does not mention sexual violence, but its interpretation by courts and by the Education Department since the law’s passage, in 1972, has led to the common understanding that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination requires schools to address sexual violence among students.”

While Betsy DeVos has not made any official changes to Title IX, she has made suggestions on how she would like to clarify its guidelines.

According to the documents leaked by the New York Times, the changes include:

  • Narrow the definition of sexual harassment
  • Give more rights to those accused of assault, harassment or rape
  • Reduce responsibility of universities with a higher standard of deciding whether the university handled the complaint properly or not
  • Encourage schools to empower victims

This is a response of the Trump administration to the guidance letter of the Obama administration.

Laura Egan, senior director of programs for the Clery Center. Photo obtained from CleryCenter.com
Laura Egan, senior director of programs for the Clery Center. Photo obtained from CleryCenter.com

Laura Egan, the senior director of programs for the Clery Center, explained that while the letter is not the law some may perceive it as such.

“The Obama administration made recommendations that this administration feels that the [Education] department is taking as law,” Egan said. 

She made it clear she could not make any public comments on the suggested changes as they are not officially released.

“I cannot comment on the proposed suggestions that the New York Times leaked,” Egan said.

Title IX endeavors to protect students and advocate for their rights, but so does the Clery Act.

 

On CleryCenter.com, they describe the Clery Act as, “A consumer protection law that aims to provide transparency around campus crime policy and statistics.”

It is the reason universities that get federal funding have an Annual Security Report, ASR, that releases every year on Oct. 1. Here is a graph that compiles the ASR report results regarding sexual assaults and harassment on several Ohio public universities in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

While Title IX and the Clery Act are not the same policy, they do have overlap.

“The Clery Act is for crime reporting in general,” Egan said. “While Title IX focuses on gender discrimination.”

For example, Title IX covers sexual harassment while the Clery Act only covers different kinds of sexual assault including rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape.

One thing is clear, if these changes do happen, a judge will have to decide what happens.

“If the suggestions do change what is currently federal law it might conflict with the Clery Act,” Egan said. “On the issues [The Clery Act and Title IX] both cover. From there the issue will have to go to the courts.”

For now, Kent State has a resource on campus that aims to support victims on campus.

The Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services, SRVSS, “empowers those affected by power-based personal violence and educates the community about healthy relationships and bystander action.”

Jennifer O’Connell, the director for SRVSS, says it works in a four-pronged approach: advocacy, awareness, prevention and professional development.

Jennifer O'Connell Director for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Service. Picture from Kent.edu
Jennifer O’Connell, director for Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Service. Picture from Kent.edu

The first branch, advocacy, is broken down into crisis support, empowerment and healing.

“First and foremost is the advocacy support,” O’Connell said. “We can provide crisis support to help to normalize their feelings or experiences, help connect them with resources on campus or in the community and resources that might assist them academically.”

Empowerment focuses on giving students a voice to speak out about what they’ve been through and providing safe platforms to do so. SRVSS partners with the More Than A Body, MTAB, project and Students Against Sexual Assault, SASA.

MTAB is a self-love project that strives to “bring awareness and support to survivors of sexual abuse and assault, as well as women feeling insecure about their physical body.”

SASA was established in the spring of 2013 by a group of Kent State students concerned about safety on campus. These students wanted to raise awareness with peers about sexual violence.

The healing part revolves around getting survivors connected with support groups and counseling services on campus or in the community as well as various opportunities for survivors to express themselves.

“We do different art opportunities for survivors to come together and just be able to be in a community with other people that understand what they’ve been through without having to feel like they have to disclose they’re a survivor,” O’Connell said.

The awareness aspect of SRVSS is centered on raising awareness at a university level.

“We program around relationship abuse awareness month and sexual assault awareness month,” O’Connell said. “We’ve really tried to get information out to the greater community about what is sexual assault, what is consent, what is relationship violence, what does a healthy relationship look like and what are warning signs.”

SRVSS also has educational workshops about consent, relationships and barriers that survivors may face.

The third area, prevention, uses resources on campus like Green Dot to try to stop sexual assault on campus before it happens.

“How do we create a community of respect and shared responsibility?” O’Connell said. “How do we communicate that violence is not tolerated at Kent State?”

SRVSS uses Green Dot to teach bystander skills through workshops and talks.

“A lot of times people will say they don’t intervene because they don’t know what to do,” O’Connell said. “And so Green Dot’s about changing that so that you’re there and know what to do.”

The final part of SRVSS is professional development for faculty and staff on campus. This category seeks to empower faculty and staff to create a space that’s safe for students and to communicate with students.

“How did they create that safe environment so that when the student does come to them, they can make sure that student is safe first and foremost, caring for that student, connecting them with resources and then doing what they need to do to contact the university staff who need to know what’s going on,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell was unable to comment on Devos’ proposed changes to the university’s Title IX policies.

“Until we know for sure what’s going to come out, I don’t really feel comfortable speaking on the rumors of what’s going to come around,” she said. “It’s a larger conversation that would actually go into our policy and have to go through a step-by-step process of being approved.”

O’Connell said any changes made would go into effect the following fiscal year.

“For example, if the guidance came out Nov. 1 and you went through the 60-day period for comments, then in February they would come out with the final,” she said. “Then the university would work to have it in place by whatever date the government said.”

Egan said that if people support or disagree with the new suggestions, they can voice their opinions once it is made official.”

“Once the proposed suggestions are widely known, the suggestions will be up for public commentary,” Egan said. “From there the decisions to finalize them or not will be made.”

 

 

 

Linda: Egan Interview & Photo, Scribd doc, Writing, Banner Photo

Ashton: O’Connell Interview & Photo, Infogram, Scribd doc, Soundbite, Writing