Taking My Seat: The importance of Title IX

DeVos' rollback fails to consult the people who work to make sexual violence a federal policy issue

President Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Credit: 
Wikimedia

This article talks about sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers.

On this week’s chronicle of ‘WTF is up with the White House women’, President Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the education department’s plan to reform Obama-era guidelines of Title IX, implemented to protect survivors of sexual violence.

So, let’s get into it. Introduced in 1972, Title IX is a federal higher education law that also applies to high-school. Title IX is an anti-discrimination law specifically barring schools from discriminating based on gender. This law includes protecting survivors and victims in the case of sexual violence.

In 2011, President Obama and his administration sent a letter to colleges and universities, famously known as the “Dear Colleagues letter” that reminded institutions of their requirement to adhere to Title IX. The letter also outlined the obligation of institutions to protect survivors, such as outlining when institutions are obliged to step in as well as what proactive measures can and should be taken to stand up for victims and survivors.

In a speech at George Mason University, Devos’ comments about Title IX and the “Dear Colleagues” letter essentially stated that the policies and recommendations from President Obama and his administration weren’t working.

But it strikes me as odd that DeVos can make blanket statements like “it’s not working” when people who actually work with survivors clearly think it is. This policy rollback isn’t survivor-centric and fails to consult the people who work to make sexual violence a federal policy issue.

I think what DeVos argues is the most controversial part of the ‘Dear Colleagues letter’ is that as explained by Vox News. School investigations under Title IX were to use the “preponderance of the evidence — a greater chance that someone is guilty than not in their student justice systems, which is the standard of proof in a civil trial.”

Now what I’m about to say will be controversial to some but if I’m not speaking my mind then I’m probably not taking my seat.

I think Obama’s expectation that student justice systems use the preponderance of evidence is great. We know survivors frequently don’t report their harassment, assault or rape out of fear of invalidation or disbelief. So why not create a system where the outset victims or survivors aren’t the ones we question but instead the perpetrators of sexual violence are the ones under the microscope.

Revolutionary, I know.

People argue that our justice system is simply the way it is and can’t be changed. But what if the justice system continuously fails survivors of sexual violence? Isn’t the whole point of history that we learn, grow and change to better serve the nation? Sure, the preponderance of evidence in this case is strictly to be used in a student justice system but perhaps it should be related to both.

So, if there are going to be changes to Title IX in light of President Obama’s Dear Colleague letter they needto be survivor-centric and should absolutely consult a wide range of survivors who both have and haven’t gone through the system. I think there’s a lot to learn from survivors who choose not to report their assault. They might not feel like there are supports in place for them. We should know this and work to remedy that problem.

I want to end this by reminding everyone that Kingston’s Take Back the Night (TBTN) is happening on Thursday September 21 at 6 p.m. in Confederation Park. TBTN is an annual peaceful protest against sexual and gender-based violence.

Also, there’s an open Bystander Intervention training session that any student can attend on Wednesday, September 27. If you have questions about consent or want to know how you can help your friends, you should attend this.

Standing together with survivors of sexual violence can start with you attending a rally, talking with your friends, or attending Bystander Intervention training. Even with everything going on in the United States, it’s important to remember you’re not alone in your concerns or discomfort, and that there are resources all over campus and in Canada to provide the support you need.

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