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LEE WINOCUR FIELD, Ph.D., San Clemente
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently announced that her department will be revisiting the Title IX guidelines on campus sexual assault. The effect of any changes will make it harder to discipline the thousands of students, almost all of them men, who are accused of sexual violence against women each year and return us to the era during which young women were stigmatized for speaking up.
According to Brett Sokolow, executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, 10,000 to 12,000 cases of campus rape reach the disciplinary phase every year. Add to that the many cases of reported and unreported sexual harassment, stalking and relationship violence, and it becomes clear that on-campus violence is a critical problem deserving weighty consequences.
But how these cases should be handled is a challenge for any administration. How do schools show support for the survivors while insuring fairness to both parties? Colleges and universities are in a delicate position, reluctant to dismantle the current system for addressing sexual assault, while anticipating the possible loss of federal funds for not conceding to new guidelines.
Make no mistake, Title IX remains the law of the land. This announcement does not alter in any way schools’ responsibilities. DeVos’ speech noted many situations in which schools have failed to adhere to the law. The response to this challenge is to enforce Title IX more vigorously, not to undermine it.
Now is the time for our local colleges and universities to step up and demonstrate that they will do the right thing for their students even in the midst of potential rollbacks from the Department of Education.
The American Association of University Women together with hundreds of organizations across the country remains committed to protecting and defending Title IX. Students’ access to an education in a safe and secure environment free from the threat of assault is on the line. Schools, and the Department of Education, owe it to all students to uphold their civil rights, a promise Mrs. DeVos’ announcement would most certainly deny.