So, millennials, what do we know about Betsy DeVos, so far?
We remember she was branded unqualified by many when she was first appointed Education Secretary at the beginning of Trump’s term as President. We remember the uproar that then occurred. We remember her calling for more school choice at the beginning of 2017.
And, we will also remember DeVos as the Education Secretary who decided that policies originally put in place to help prevent sexual assault on college campuses needed “reviewing.”
In 2011, the Obama Administration, as reported by former Vice President Joe Biden during a speech at the University of New Hampshire, revamped the rules that were originally in place as a part of Title IX.
“We are the first administration to make it clear that sexual assault is not just a crime, it can be a violation of a woman’s civil rights,” Biden noted in his speech.
On April 4, 2011 — the same day as Biden’s speech at UNH — the Obama Administration released a statement outlining its new Title IX guidelines.
“If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects,” the statement read.
Sounds more than reasonable, right? Fighting to protect potential victims of sexual assault (on college campuses, but in the hopes that these 2011 measures could be a catalyst for other settings) was, and is, beyond common sense. No student of any gender should have to live in fear. No person should have to even comprehend preparedness for this grotesque violation of human rights.
But, DeVos took matters into her own hands. Initially, her speech, given at the George Mason University campus in Arlington, Virginia, sounded as though it was in line with the original, common sense mission of the Title IX guidelines that were in place already.
“One rape is one too many, one assault is one too many, one aggressive act of harassment is one too many, one person denied due process is one too many,” DeVos said in her September 7, 2017 speech.
Wait… one person denied due process? Is she referring to possible perpetrators of sexual assault being denied due process? It turns out that she is. And, later in that same speech, she indicated that “if everything is harassment, then nothing is.”
Yes, potential suspects have been wrongfully accused in sexual assault cases. It’s happened, and it’s happened too many times. And, by legal definition, harassment is “the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious.” Just by virtue of its definition, not “everything is harassment.”
All of that said, the message that is sent from DeVos’ “review” of Title IX guidelines is that female students’ voices will no longer be heard in the event of a sexual assault. According to a 2015 report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses did not report the incident upon its occurrence. And that was in 2015, when the Title IX guidelines were very much in place. As a result of this message, that rate could potentially increase.
Our leaders should be encouraging students to report incidents, rather than keep them to themselves, wondering if they’ll be believed. The fact that false reporting occurs frequently should not be a basis in which reporting is discouraged altogether. We must continue to keep the very unfortunate reality that sexual assault occurs on college campuses, and in many other places, in the conversation. And we can’t rest until there is no longer a reason to fear.
Disclaimer: The political views presented in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Not Another Millennial Blog.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Betsy DeVos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons