United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new rules to classify domestic violence, dating violence and stalking as forms of gender discrimination that schools must address under Title IX.
After DeVos’ appointment by Donald Trump in 2016, the due and fair process of the accused perpetrators of sexual violence was put on the front of her agenda, and on Nov. 16, 2018, DeVos proposed a 144 page amendment to Title IX.
In addition to fair process, another guiding principle of DeVos’ amendment is to add greater clarity by defining key terms like dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Communications Specialist for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services Zach Woods said in an email to the Badger Herald that universities would need to address these new definitions from the Department of Education in their policies or they risk an investigation from the department on the mishandling of cases or loss of funding.
The same day of DeVos’ proposal, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank released a statement that said the amendments will be reviewed by the UW System, and any changes made to the university’s policy will be communicated to the campus community. No further statements were made regarding the changes since their original proposal in November 2018.
“UW–Madison has developed policies and practices that are timely, fair and ensure both parties have equal participation rights,” Blank said in the statement.
UW is committed to creating a safe campus through effective prevention, survivor support and accountability efforts, Blank said in the statement.
Executive Director of DAIS Shannon Barry spoke about how the rules will impact UW. The rules won’t change how UW handles these situations, Barry said.
“[UW’s Policies] have been operating this way for a while now and have been a leader in this regard,” said Barry. “What really changes here is that students will be able to pursue a Title IX suit in the event that a university fails to act appropriately.”
Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law during his presidency. Co-authored by Birch Bayh of the U.S. Senate and Congresswoman Patsy Mink of the House, Title IX was designed to prohibit sexual discrimination in any education programs that receive federal funding, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s website.
In the wake of the 1960’s civil rights movement, Title IX was part of a greater wave of legislation designed to remedy a history of inequality and discrimination, according to History.com. The Education Amendments of 1972 were a direct follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Because the Education Amendments of 1972 do not mention sexual violence directly, universities and other institutions nationwide historically interpreted Title IX in different ways — leading to inconsistencies in enforcement, according to the American Association of University Professors.
In 2011, the Obama administration attempted to mitigate inconsistencies of interpretation by publishing the “Dear Colleague Letter” providing non-legally binding guidelines to help school administrations write policy regarding the interpretation of Title IX with respect to LGBTQ+ students and sexual assault.
While both the original text of Title IX and the “Dear Colleague Letter” do not lay out official definitions for domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, DeVos’ new amendment does.
Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment Chair Saja Abu Hakmeh spoke about the proposed changes.
“Classifying [cases of dating violence] under Title IX is a really big change that is going to impact the university especially, in a positive way as far as getting survivors and victims the type of recognition and resources and support that they need following certain events that may happen to them while they’re at the university,” said Abu Hakmeh.
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While these new clear definitions may prove to be quite useful in some cases, lobbying groups like Higher Ed said by specifically defining terms, they fear DeVos is limiting legal opportunities for victims.
DeVos’ proposal is still under review. It is over a year since she first announced it and nothing is signed into federal law. It could take many more months of alterations before anything is finalized, according to the New York Times.