by Tanya M. Shlosman
The start of fall not only brings crisp weather, and changing leaves, but it also welcomes many new and returning college students to campuses across the country. Many of these students and their families believe that their campus is a safe place to learn, live, and grow; however, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), 11.2 % of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students). 21% of TGQN (transgender, gender queer, non-conforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compare to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non TGQN.
To combat sexual assault, The Obama Administration, in 2011, issued a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights as part of a larger effort to increase school’s obligations under the federal statue Title IX to investigate sexual assault allegations. If colleges failed to increase efforts to investigate and adjudicate allegations of sexual assault, then they would risk losing federal funds.
The action by the former administration was a significant step towards giving sexual assault survivors a voice, and a way to stand up to their perpetrators with the full support of their school’s administration. However, with the election of a new president and the confirmation of a new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, the progress that was made in 2011 is being threatened.
With Devos’s announcement of potential critical changes to Title IX, here is what you need to know:
- Title IX was passed in 1972 and states, “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.”
- Title IX applies to all educational institutions, both public and private, that receive federal funds. Almost all private colleges and universities must abide by Title IX regulations because they receive federal funding through federal financial aid programs used by their students.
- Because of the “Dear Colleague” guidance letter, written in 2011, campuses were obligated to overhaul the procedures on how the handle sexual assault charges. In addition, many colleges hired a Title IX coordinator to make charges were being handled correctly.
- Title IX is still federal law, and many are fighting to ensure it stays that way.
Devos’s announcement comes after criticisms that the procedures used in the handling of sexual assault charges on campuses, did not give accused students due process; however, the “Dear Colleague” letter provides explicitly clear guidelines to ensure accusers and the accused receive fair treatment.
Many are disappointed in Devos’s proposed changes to Title IX and see it as an attack and an effort to once again suppress sexual assault survivors. But regardless of the actions of the current Education Secretary, everyone can reach out to their representatives, state colleges and universities, and tell them that victims of sexual assault will not be shamed or silenced, and those who carry out these crimes will not go unpunished. Get involved and contact LaFASA for help and resources.