Important Addendum: On September 22, 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos withdrew the Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence (dated April 4, 2011), and the Questions and Answers on Title IX Sexual Violence (dated April 29, 2014). At One Love we stand by survivors of sexual harassment on campus (including sexual assault, relationship abuse, stalking, etc). To stay up to date on Title IX or get involved, check out these organizations working to ensure Title IX protections through community and campus work, such as Know Your IX, End Rape on Campus, It’s On Us, National Campus Leadership Council, SurvJustice, and many local entities as well.
Written by One Love Writers Corp member, Kathryn Snyder
Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made an announcement regarding Title IX. In case you missed it, you can rewatch the livestream.
Wait, what does Title IX do again?
SparkNotes version: Most commonly known for affording gender equity in college athletics, it more broadly prohibits sex discrimination at any school receiving federal funding (re: most of them). This includes complaints of interpersonal and sexual violence and requires schools to respond in an appropriate manner or risk losing federal funding. For more information, check out Know Your IX.
Okay, so what does DeVos’ announcement mean and what happens next? Here’s our take on five key questions you might have from her speech and how it affects you.
1. How will Title IX change?
Good news – nothing has changed yet.
The guiding document for Title IX policy and procedure is currently former President Obama’s “Dear Colleague Letter” from 2011, which details how the Department of Education handles Title IX complaints. DeVos called this current policy a “failed system” and expressed desire to roll back certain pieces.
Before any changes are made, however, there will be a public “notice-and-comment” period to gather feedback related to Title IX and its enforcement on campuses nationwide. Relationship abuse occurs in all communities, regardless of race, class, gender, orientation, identity, religion, or ability. During this public comment process, DeVos’ department will likely hear the experiences of a wide range of folks Title IX seeks to protect. It will be crucial for those who support survivors to band together and utilize this time.
No matter what ends up changing with Title IX, however, what is most important is that those who have or are experiencing abuse feel safe, supported, and believed.
2. What’s all this talk about due process?
DeVos shared her belief that the system as is favors accusers by unfairly denying due process to the accused. Note: Title IX hearings differ from criminal cases in several ways, including burden of proof. In criminal cases, there must be evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” to convict. In university Title IX cases, the widely-used burden of proof is fifty-one percent, known as a “preponderance of evidence.” DeVos advocated for a higher burden of proof in these Title IX hearings in order to rectify what she believes is biased impact on the accused.
If changed, this could make it more difficult for survivors to come forward – for instance, in word-against-word situations there may not be physical or digital evidence of verbal or emotional abuse, making it harder to reach a higher burden of proof.
Stigma is one of many reasons people experiencing abuse do not speak up. You can check out a list of 11 reasons why here.
3. What does this mean for now?
Good question. Just like you, I’m not quite sure. DeVos did not provide a timeframe or process for the public “notice-and-comment” period, which is the first step to making any changes. What is known is that campuses have put a lot of time and energy into making resources available for students, and despite a lack of clarity, nothing is likely to change for now. There are also incredible advocates across the country who will continue to rally together for the protection of students’ civil rights.
Want to rally with them? Do your thing. There are fantastic organizations working to ensure Title IX protections through community and campus work, such as Know Your IX, End Rape on Campus, It’s On Us, National Campus Leadership Council, SurvJustice, and many local entities as well.
4. Where can I get support?
Even if Title IX changes, it is important to know that there will always be resources for you on the local, state, and national level. Check out this list of state based domestic violence coalitions from the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) or this tool from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) to search for places close to you.
Also, you may have noticed DeVos used language that overwhelmingly labeled victims as females and the accused as males. Here’s a friendly reminder that violence happens in all communities and it is important to not perpetuate common stereotypes. Creating an inclusive conversation with people of color, the queer community, undocumented and first generation students, individuals with disabilities, and many others who experience abuse is critical.
Everyone experiencing (or perpetrating) abuse needs and deserves support. Check out One Love’s resource page for connections to experts for yourself or a friend.
5. What can I do?
Start a conversation. By engaging in dialogue at your school, at your dinner table, and within your community at large, you can promote a culture of safety and wellness wherever you are. Social norms that condone unhealthy or abusive behaviors begin to change at the local level with people like you.
You can bet that I will continue raising awareness about healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, leveraging the amazing resources and guide One Love has created. I personally like the #ThatsNotLove campaign discussion guides. Whatever you choose to do, do something.
And no matter what changes or stays the same with Title IX, what is most important is that those who have or are experiencing abuse feel safe, supported, and believed.