Bucknell Institute of Public Policy: New administration is not making sexual assault a priority

Caldwell Harden, Contributing Writer

Growing up, my idea of Title IX began and ended with the fact that it was the legislation that allowed me to play sports just like my male counterparts. As I have grown to better understand the legislation, I have come to realize how many opportunities I have been afforded because of it, and how thankful I should be for it.

Title IX was enacted on June 23, 1972, and ensures equal opportunities, regardless of gender, for every educational program that receives any form of federal funding. The educational programs consist of 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, as well as libraries, museums, and private schools.

Prior to the existence of Title IX, women encountered various barriers to receiving fair and equal education, especially for medical and law school, occupations which were previously believed to be unsuitable for mothers. The scope of Title IX continually expands since it is considered a living, breathing document (similar to the Constitution), meaning it is up for interpretation depending on who is in office. This is where this issue begins.

Trump has nominated Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education. Many people have issues with her lack of experience in the education department and believe she is out of touch given that she is a billionaire, among other defining factors. For example, neither she nor her children have ever attended public schools. Devos has garnered so much resistance that even teachers unions are campaigning against her. Something that is equally concerning is her stance on Title IX.

Devos has not yet stated whether she is for or against Title IX. However, when asked during one of her hearings if she would support the 2011 interpretation of it as it relates to sexual assault, she claimed it would be “premature” for her to make that type of decision, without first conducting more research. The 2011 interpretation of Title IX refers to the “Dear Colleague” letter which informed schools that, according to ESPN, a “truly equal and accessible learning environment is free of sexual harassment,” and that schools must actively work to combat the issue of sexual assault in order to continue receiving federal funding.

Devos’ past donations to organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, whose goal is to decrease the burden of proof in university administrative sexual assault hearings, support this view. Many sexual assault victims on college campuses choose not to pursue a criminal proceeding because the burden of proof is so high that it can become traumatizing. The “Dear Colleague” letter provided victims with the ability to receive justice within their school community.

Many praised Donald Trump for nominating a woman for the Secretary of Education position, especially since his rhetoric about women has been so blatantly disrespectful in the past. However, it is clear that protecting against sexual assault is not a priority for the new administration. This is deeply unsettling considering that one in every five female college students report having had “unwanted sexual contact.” At the University, those numbers are even higher, with Associate Professor of Psychology Bill Flack estimating that one in every three female students experience a form of sexual assault.

Betsy Devos should not need to do more research into Title IX before saying she supports it. Every person, no matter their gender, race, or sexual orientation, should feel safe at their school and comfortable to report an incident, if one should occur. One may assume that Devos’ nomination would not affect a school like the University. However, it could have serious implications for programs like Speak Up, since the University receives a $300,000 grant from the federal government with the goal of reducing “sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.”

Any individual nominated for such an honorable position should not have to think twice about whether they will support legislation, such as Title IX, which works to decrease the occurrence of sexual assault.

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