Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault.
Title IX joined the body of U.S. civil rights law as part of the Education Amendment Act of 1972, stating “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Although a sweeping statement, this component became closely associated with providing protections for sexual harassment and assault victims. However, the future power of Title IX is tenuous. A series of amendments proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos late last year threaten to undermine the protections many have taken for granted. In response, University President Anthony Monaco released an announcement to the community affirming the university’s commitment to “support each others’ safety, rights to equal access to education, and well-being.” Monaco also shared his letter that he submitted to the Department of Education, urging them to reconsider its proposal. This continued devotion to support victims of sexual harassment and promote a community of safety is the right response.
Since 2011, the Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letter has defined the basic framework in which schools and institutions have approached Title IX. A “preponderance of the evidence” is sufficient grounds for the institution to begin a formal investigation. However, points introduced in DeVos’ amendment will significantly reduce the legal avenues open to institutions and limit the definition of sexual harassment.
The new statutory provisions state that schools are only responsible for responding to conduct that occurs within its “education program or activity,” which may include “university libraries, computer labs, and vocational resources … campus tours, public lectures, sporting events, and other activities at covered institutions.” While it does not necessarily impose geographical restrictions, it significantly decreases the responsibility and ability of the school with incidents that occur outside of the institution’s direct supervision. As a result, common non-school sponsored events involving university students, such as parties, would become more dangerous for students as schools would be under no legal obligation to provide protection. This leaves a gaping hole in the protection and safety of students.
While the new regulations ostensibly try to provide neutral ground for both the accused and the accuser, they are sacrificing the sensitivity that is required in approaching this type of emotionally charged situation. The proposal states that each institute of higher education which complies with the new regulations will experience a reduction of between 0.75 and 0.93 Title IX investigations per year. It states that the requirement of a formal complaint for an investigation and the cutbacks of the schools’ oversight to its programs will be the cause for this decrease. This is unacceptable. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, over 90% of sexual assaults on college campuses are not reported, and implementing regulations that are projected to decrease the number of investigations is actively hindering the ongoing effort to hold perpetrators accountable.
Shrinking the scope of institutional involvement in Title IX investigations would save money. This shouldn’t be a motivator. DeVos’ Department of Education is more invested in cutting costs than ensuring student safety; this is clear in the argument that the “monetary cost savings of these regulations over ten years would be in the range of $286.4 million to $367.7 million.” This amendment runs counter to the #MeToo movement, disempowering the very people that movement has sought to lift up.
Perhaps the most controversial and disrespectful of the amendment’s points is that accusers will be given a cross-examination. The accused will have the right — through a third party — to cross-examine their accusers in a live hearing, something that was discouraged by previous guidelines due to concerns of emotional trauma for the accuser. In light of this, students who were victims of sexual violence will likely be more intimidated coming forward about their experience, an already tough decision to make. Policies concerning the mental and emotional well-being of victims should not be removed or undermined in favor of their alleged attacker.
As DeVos’ proposal undergoes the process to become legally binding, the discussion of how to protect victims of sexual violence has turned to universities themselves. Regardless of whether DeVos will amend her proposal to address people’s concerns, Monaco’s timely and comprehensive response as well as the efforts of the OEO are admirable. However, sentiments and commitments must continue to be met with action. The Tufts community must be able to trust that this institution has each of our best interests at heart, and will continue to protect human rights in the face of legal adversity. The changes to Title IX will affect many students and employees on college campuses throughout the country; other universities must take a stand as Tufts has, and protect and defend their students and employees as the noose tightens around Title IX protections.