U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, along with her team, are currently re-evaluating Obama-era protections and regulations regarding dealing with sexual assault on college campuses.
DeVos and Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson held hearings last week to get a better sense of campus dynamics, processes, and challenges facing administrators dealing with sexual assault response.
In attendance were three college presidents, six lawyers, eight representatives of education associations, a law professor, and a Title IX coordinator. A representative of the National School Boards Association—which focuses on K-12 education and has nothing to do with the college level—was also present.
Not in attendance: any of the deans of students, student conduct officers, or campus officials who struggle with these issues on a daily basis.
In discussing their proceedings, Jackson noted that current processes for dealing with campus sexual assault cases are not “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,” adding that “90 percent [of the cases] fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.'” Jackson, apparently not understanding that incapacitation or lack of complete consent constitutes rape (a 2015 survey from the Association of American Universities found that one in four women at many leading universities were raped while incapacitated), later apologized for her comments. Subsequently, Washington Senator Patty Murray has called for DeVos to remove Jackson from office.
The father of Corey Mock, a college wrestler accused of rape, noted that the legal process for dealing with this issue is convoluted. Mock was found innocent, then expelled from college, then readmitted after his family sued, then kicked off the college wrestling team. “The young men who have been accused have gone through an absolutely horrendous experience,” his father said. “They have had their entire world turned upside down.”
As the debate continues, attorney generals from Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and more than a dozen other states have issued a memo to DeVos urging her to keep in place the Obama-era protections for college assault victims.
“Violence on America’s campuses must be taken seriously,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. He added that rolling back the current protections could very well discourage future rape victims from reporting attacks, as well as keeping campuses from improving their response strategies.
As of last week, there were 344 open sexual violence investigations at 242 colleges and universities, according to a Title IX report from the Education Department.