Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed the student chapter of the Federalist Society at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, last Thursday, Sept. 7. According to The New York Times, DeVos said she plans to change the approach to cases of sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses under Title IX policy.
DeVos said she would work with the current administration to protect the rights of both parties involved in cases of reported sexual assault, according to a report by Stephanie Saul and Dana Goldstein of The New York Times. According to the same report, DeVos did not mention specific changes she plans on enacting. Instead, she suggested that the current framework for adjudicating cases of campus sexual assault is depriving victims and the accused of their due process.
“Survivors aren’t well-served when they are re-traumatized with appeal after appeal because the failed system failed the accused,” DeVos said. “And no student should be forced to sue their way to due process.”
According to The New York Times, DeVos referred to campus sexual assault hearings as “kangaroo courts” wherein college and university administrators act as “the judge and jury,” and that “Washington dictated schools must use the lowest standard of proof.”
In a 2011 letter from the Department of Education under the Obama administration addressed to college administrators nationwide, colleges and universities were mandated to meet a set list of requirements that enforces a stricter response to accusations of sexual assault on campus.
Herbert Gooch, a professor of political science at California Lutheran University, referred to the letter as a “big wake-up call” that urged colleges and universities to “do something about [sexual assault and misconduct]” because “things weren’t being done before.”
“[The 2011 letter from the Education Department] had a considerable amount of vagueness and left a lot up to the schools themselves, which is pretty much what you’ve got to do,” Gooch said. “There are just so many differences in colleges and universities, it’s difficult to make one set of binding rule. What we’re talking about here is a semi-judicial process, it’s not the courts.”
In reference to DeVos’ proposed timeline, Gooch said he observed changes being made across the nation to how cases of sexual assault on college campuses were being handled within a few years of the Department of Education’s requirements’ release in 2011.
“I think the rules are still in the process of being re-written from 2011, depending on, to some extent, the latest cases,” Gooch said. “But universities are now on notice… and recognize it as serious. Otherwise, too many colleges and universities would have pushed stuff under the table.”
Janelle Garland, a senior studying psychology at Cal Lutheran, said no matter one’s age, there “might be fear in telling someone about [sexual assault and misconduct].”
“I guess no matter how you feel about how victims and the accused are being treated, it will affect people psychologically no matter what,” Garland said. “I think just talking about it now and having an open conversation about this issue is what helps students start to feel that they are in a safe place and have a voice, because assault has proven that it can make someone feel like they don’t.”