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Devos’s proposed sexual assault on campus regulations could send sexual assault survivors into hiding

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Devos’s proposed sexual assault on campus regulations could send sexual assault survivors into hiding

Photo courtesy of Wikemedia

Photo courtesy of Wikemedia

Photo courtesy of Wikemedia

Photo courtesy of Wikemedia

Shirah Lister

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The #MeToo movement has had a big impact on people’s understanding of the trauma that is sexual assault and harassment. The message has seemed to resonate with many institutions, except, it seems, in the US Department of Education. So, Betsy Devos, riddle me this: If students don’t feel safe in their schools, how can they get an education?

In August, The New York Times received a copy of Betsy Devos’ proposed policies about college campus sexual assault. These rules would reduce liability for colleges and make it easier for perpetrators to go unpunished. They state that universities are only responsible to investigate harassment that happens on-campus and told to an official. If not, the school is not required to investigate.

Although the rules have yet to go into effect, last year, Obama’s regulations were rescinded because Betsy Devos believed they were unfair to both those who had been assaulted and those accused of assault and to the unprepared universities that had to handle these cases.

The draft of the rules, as published by The New York Times, state that schools only have to investigate if the student files a formal report. This means that if a student suffers the trauma of rape, and then tells their trusted college advisor, the school is not obligated to investigate. It tightens the definition of sexual misconduct. So now the conduct would have to be severe and make it impossible for the student to attend class, and it must be an on-campus assault.

The Obama Administration defined sexual harassment more broadly, including unwelcome sexual advances, while Devos has defined it as repeated and so ‘severe’ that the victim cannot take part in their education. Devos has also made “on-campus” not include any fraternity or sorority houses that are outside of campus grounds. But, in many schools, students have to live outside of campus grounds. A lot of socialization takes place outside of campus grounds, and therefore it would be unrealistic to make this distinction. Under Obama, universities were required to investigate any assault that happened to a student.

Supporters of Devos’s policy have argued that these proposed changes will restore the campus justice system, and benefit both the accuser and the accused. One of the issues was that there was too much of a burden on schools, and students accused didn’t have enough protection.

If it’s too burdened on schools, the Department of Education should offer resources and training to universities to help them be better equipped for sexual assault. For students who feel they’ve been unfairly accused, no system is perfect. Schools need checks and balances so that those who are actually innocent don’t face repercussions. But this does not mean getting rid of Obama’s regulations. A few tweakings will do.

Devos’s actions seem more political than practical. According to APCO, only 8% of college officials viewed Devos’s changes positively. In addition, many schools claim they will not go backward and change how they handle sexual harassment.

About the Writer
Shirah Lister, Junior Editor

Shirah is a sophomore and junior editor who has been writing for the Beacon for a year (since the beginning of her frosh year). Shirah enjoys listening...

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