Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Thursday that her department will change the Obama Administration’s guidance for handling cases of sexual assault on college campuses and rethink the way Title IX regulations against gender discrimination are enforced.
“The sad reality is that lady justice is not blind on campuses today. This unraveling of justice is shameful, it’s wholly un-American,” DeVos said during a speech at George Mason University in Virginia. “There must be a better way forward. Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”
DeVos’ speech came almost two months after she met with various advocate groups to discuss how sexual assault investigations are handled on college campuses, listening to victims of sexual assault as well as to men who say they have been falsely accused. Victims’ advocates have urged DeVos not to roll back the Obama Administration’s controversial Dear Colleague letter. That letter established strict guidelines for universities to follow when investigating sexual assault complaints or risk losing federal funding under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
On Thursday, DeVos criticized that guidance for creating a system that “has failed too many students.”
“Instead of working with schools on behalf of students, the prior administration weaponized the Office of Civil Rights to work against schools and against students,” she said. “The era of rule by letter is over. Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach.”
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Protesters outside the speech chanted “stop supporting rapists,” and advocates of sexual assault victims quickly criticized the announcement. “What seems procedural is a blunt attack on survivors of sexual assault,” Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement. “It will discourage schools from taking steps to comply with the law—just at the moment when they are finally working to get it right.”
DeVos said the department will launch a so-called notice and comment process to develop a new approach.
“We know this much to be true: one rape is one too many, one assault is one too many,” DeVos said. “One person denied due process is one too many. This conversation may be uncomfortable, but we must have it. It is our moral obligation to get this right. Campus sexual misconduct must continue to be confronted head-on.”