Title IX was a landmark legislation signed into law by President Richard Nixon just over 40 years ago. It allowed for women’s advancement in areas of education that were previously not accessible.
The legislation is perhaps best known for ensuring that male and female athletes be treated equally and ensuring that women receive a quality education, thereby advancing their positions in the workplace–issues that were holding women back during the time it was passed.
More prominent today, however, are the protections it offers to pregnant or parenting students, transgender students, and those who have been victims of sexual or gender based harassment and violence on their campuses. With the new administration’s term well into its first few months, and an entirely new department of education, many are worried that these regulations aimed to protect marginalized populations may fall by the wayside.
College assault was one of many issues that the previous administration and Department of Education worked to improve throughout their eight-year tenure, largely due to a string of highly publicized reports of sexual violence on campuses across the nation. Due to pressure from the Department of Education, who investigated over 100 colleges across the country for Title IX violations, colleges have transformed how they respond to student misconduct.
Specifically, the Department of Education mandated that colleges and universities maintain explicit guidelines when conducting sexual assault investigations on their campuses. Not only are colleges required to have a coordinator in charge of investigating sex discrimination and sexual violence, they need to have a written policy that explains the investigative process and provide students with counseling or a change in housing and course schedule.
In addition, survivors of sexual assault on campus can file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights should they feel that these guidelines have been violated.
As a result of these new guidelines, the civil rights office is responding to nearly 300 incidents of Title IX violations at 223 U.S. Colleges. Obama-era regulations have caused a number of universities to evaluate their practices when it comes to sexual-assault on campus.
During the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos, however, the new Secretary of Education would not commit to enforcing Title IX in the same ways the previous administration had. For many activists, educators, and students, this news is troubling.
As Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a Title IX advocate and lawyer told the New York Times, many are fearing that without this kind of guidance from the Department of Education schools may “heave a big sigh of relief” because there will be “nobody with the pedal to the gas.” Without the scrutiny of both the federal government and the public, schools could theoretically halt progress that has been made when handling sexual assault on college campuses.
But experts advise that there are reasons to be hopeful that Title IX protocols will be upheld even without federal enforcement.
“Schools have poured lots of money, time and resources into building title IX departments,” writes Jessica Luther of the NY Times. “They have hired people to staff them and drawn up new policies and processes for addressing sexual harassment and assault. And universities are slow to change; think of them as huge cruise ships with small rudders.”
Since many universities have already become compliant with protocol, it’s unlikely that they’ll change procedure, no matter who the head of the Department of Education is.
Also promising is that students can still go to the courts as a source of reproach when they feel that their Title IX rights are being violated–although the courts system can be arduous and traumatic for survivors.
Another source of solace is that public pressure goes a long way. If survivors are able and willing to recount their stories, sometimes public and civil dissent is enough to make universities evaluate their own practices and make changes for the better.
While it’s unclear how the new administration will affect Title IX investigations and procedures when it comes to sexual assault, it’s worth noting that students are not without recourse moving forward.