Fearing the Trump administration may dismantle or weaken the controversial on-campus system for adjudicating sexual assault, two victims’ advocacy groups have launched a social-media campaign yesterday aimed at Betsy DeVos, the staunchly conservative Department of Education nominee.
End Rape on Campus and Know Your Title IX are urging young women to defend the policy under the hashtag #DearBetsy. The groups are also encouraging supporters to make a video, explaining in 30 seconds or less why Title IX protections matter. End Rape on Campus has even provided a list of talking points and example videos.
“There’s been an enormous outpouring of support for the campaign from survivors, parents, and students all across the country,” said Sejal Singh, a member of the Know Your Title IX policy team. “Anti-sexual assault advocates have formally declared their support as well.”
By Monday morning, hundreds of tweets included the hashtag. Confirmation hearings for DeVos were originally scheduled for Wednesday, but on Monday night, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions announced it would push them back until Jan. 17.
Congress passed Title IX in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments Act to address gender-based discrimination. In 2011, the Obama administration expanded the law’s interpretation with a controversial “Dear Colleague Letter”, requiring universities to respond to sexual harassment and assault.
Singh said the Dear Colleague Letter was an appropriate interpretation of Title IX, in part because “gender-based violence on campus has the compounding effect of disrupting survivors’ ability to get their education.”
“These are harms to which schools are uniquely positioned to respond — for example, schools must ensure survivors and perpetrators are in separate classes, a common sense step to minimize the educational impact of gender-based violence on a survivor,” she said. “But in the absence of support and accommodations from the school, many formerly successful students are denied the benefits of their education — precisely the situation that Congress wrote Title IX to address.”
But critics say the Title IX campus adjudications jeopardize due process. They also note that, instead of “guilty until proven innocent,” the Dear Colleague letter requires campus adjudicators to use only a “preponderance of evidence,” a much lesser standard, to punish. All of this can amount to a shadowy judicial system that’s rigged against the accused, opponents of the policy say.
In October, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights rebuked Wesley College in Delaware, saying that its adjudication of a sexual misconduct case actually amounted to gender-based discrimination against male students under Title IX.
Critics of Title IX also note the Dear Colleague Letter has led to major changes without following the procedural practices outlined in the Administrative Procedure Act. Consequently, they argue, it would be fairly easy to issue a directive and change the current campus adjudication system without involving Congress.
Specifically, the DeVos Department of Education may simply issue a new Dear Colleague Letter that would either null the “preponderance of evidence” mandate or rescind the entire 2011 directive, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has argued.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.