On Friday, advocates and survivors of sexual assault went to the Department of Education to demand that Secretary DeVos listen to their concerns about the continuation and enforcement of Title IX, which promises freedom from sex discrimination in order to achieve equal access to education.
Activists, led by The Action Network, are calling on DeVos to commit to protecting survivors by enforcing Title IX. They are also asking her to uphold the guidance for all students, including trans and disabled students, and to hire appropriate legal counsel with track records that demonstrate support for survivors.
This week, the Education Department hired Candice Jackson to be the new secretary for civil rights. Jackson is a critic of feminism and programs that aim to assist people of color, and she has called the women who accused President Trump of sexual violence “fake victims.” This is the woman now in charge of enforcing Title IX and protecting victims of sexual assault.
“It bothers me most if Secretary DeVos is going to really dumb down Title IX enforcement,” said former Vice President Joe Biden, a passionate advocate for sexual assault prevention. “The real message, the real frightening message you’re going to send out is, our culture says it’s OK. You know, the major reason why women drop out of college when they’re a freshman is because of sexual assault. Not their grades, sexual assault. And so, it would be devastating.”
Throughout her time as a philanthropist focused on education—her only experience relevant to the office she now holds—DeVos consistently failed to support Title IX. Instead, her family has supported Grove City College, an institution notorious for refusing to comply with Title IX. DeVos herself has given thousands of dollars to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that has actively opposed the Department of Education’s guidance on sexual assault and has sought to make it more difficult for survivors to prove sexual misconduct in school grievance hearings.
When asked in her confirmation hearing whether she intended to uphold the Department’s guidance concerning sexual assault on college campuses, DeVos said an immediate decision on the matter would be “premature.” She went on to voice her support for the Safe Campus Act, a bill that would require sexual assault survivors to file a report with the police if they wanted their school to investigate a sex crime. The bill, supported by FIRE, was so extreme that groups representing fraternities and sororities had to backtrack on their early support of the bill because of student outcry.
DeVos has already helped the President remove Title IX protections for transgender students. In February, she signed onto a joint letter with the Department of Justice claiming that Obama had not sought proper legal analysis or provided appropriate explanation when he expanded Title IX to protect transgender students and stipulated that a provision of that would be to allow students to use whichever restroom corresponded to their gender identity.
Her letter led to the Supreme Court sending the case of transgender student Gavin Grimm back down to the appeal’s court for reconsideration, refusing to hear the case in light of Trump and DeVos’s rescinding of Title IX protections for transgender students. The lawsuit in question had been filed against the Gloucester County School Board on behalf of 17 year old transgender student Gavin Grimm after he was barred from using the boys’ restroom at his Virginia high school. His lawyers argued the discriminatory bathroom policy was a violation of Title IX.
Media Resources: Teen Vogue 4/17/17; Huffington Post 4/14/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/15/17, 3/6/17