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DeVos Announces End To Obama-Era Campus Sexual Assault Guidelines: What Does It Mean For Our Kids?

by Countable | 9.8.17

What’s the story?

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos set off a firestorm of reactions when she announced, during a speech at George Mason University in Virginia on Thursday that the Education Department would begin the process of rolling back Obama-era guidelines around the handling of sexual assault investigations on college campuses.

DeVos stated that the guidance denied those accused due process and created "victims" beyond the original accusers.

Why does it matter?

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex for schools and programs that receive federal funding. This includes protection from sexual harassment.

In a guidance issued in 2011, referred to as the "Dear Colleague" letter, the Obama administration reminded colleges and universities of their legal obligations to protect students against sexual assault and outlined specific guidelines for investigations and hearings. The letter also reminded schools that federal funding could be pulled if sexual assault and harassment investigations were not handled adequately.

CNN reports DeVos stated that the system is not working:

"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 all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved."

Critics of the move, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have called DeVos’s plan a step backwards:

"Today's announcement that the Department of Education plans to rewrite key Title IX guidance which works to address and prevent sexual assault in our schools is a step in the wrong direction. The truth is, although people don't want to talk about the brutal reality of sexual assault, especially when it occurs in our most cherished institutions, it is our reality, and it must be faced head-on. And any change that weakens Title IX protections will be devastating."

But some applaud the move. Andrew Miltenberg, a lawyer who has represented multiple young men accused of campus sexual assault called the university adjudications "kangaroo courts" to the Washington Post:

"On campuses throughout the country, I’ve seen firsthand how colleges and universities are wrongfully implementing their own kangaroo courts to adjudicate accusations of sexual misconduct and destroying the lives of wrongfully accused male students. Title IX was meant to be a tool for fairness, not a means for colleges and universities to micromanage students’ sex lives."

DeVos did say that the department was beginning a process, not announcing a change in policy already accomplished. They will be soliciting public comments soon to inform their decisions.

What do you think?

Do you support the Department of Education stepping back from the Obama-era guidelines around sexual assault investigations? Do you fear the signal it sends to those experiencing sexual assault and harassment on campuses? Are you a college student or a parent of a current or future college student? What do you think of the moves DeVos is making?

Tell us what you think in the comments, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr / Creative Commons)

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