DeVos and Title IX: Why It Matters

Betsy DeVos at the hearing for Secretary of Education. (Image: NBC News.)

Betsy DeVos at the hearing for Secretary of Education. (Image: NBC News.)

When Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, was asked by Senator Bob Casey about upholding the 2011 Title IX directive as it relates to sexual assault on campus, her answer was: “... I know that there's a lot of conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance — and if confirmed I would look forward to working with you and your colleagues and understand the range of opinion and understand the issues from the higher-ed institutions that are charged with resolving these and addressing them and I would look forward to working together to find some resolutions.”

When pressed for a yes or no answer regarding whether or not she would uphold the 2011 guidance, she replied, “It would be premature for me to do that today.”

So why does this matter?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 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.”

This seems intuitive, right?

In 2011, the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education passed a letter of guidance on Title IX:

“Education has long been recognized as the great equalizer in America. The U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) believe that providing all students with an educational environment free from discrimination is extremely important. The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” (source)

Title IX essentially stipulates that public universities must provide a safe environment for survivors of interpersonal violence from their abusers. This holds universities accountable for the safety and security of survivors who are their students, and universities that ignore or contribute (even indirectly) to the mistreatment or hardship of a survivor is subject to lawsuits. It seems like fortunate news after one is given the statistics of college rape occurrence-- 11.2% of all college students students experience rape or sexual assault (source)--but often, underreporting causes universities to be an unsafe place for survivors nonetheless. Education about Title IX is lacking and the language of the amendment is vague enough that it might slip by some as not relating to rape and all kinds of interpersonal violence. Some universities, like the University of Texas at Austin, have a specially designated Title IX office to investigate and handle all Title IX or interpersonal violence related cases so that the university can help the survivor and avoid incurring a Title IX lawsuit.

Betsy DeVos’s attitude towards the 2011 directive on Title IX is, frankly, unacceptable. It is essential that the advances in anti-sexual assault and anti-interpersonal violence education and prevention be protected and continued, and that is threatened by Trump’s endorsement of DeVos as Secretary of Education.

So what can we do about this?

Take action. Contact your senators and urge them to oppose the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be U.S. Secretary of Education.

Call your senators in Washington by dialing the Capitol Switchboard and asking to be transferred to your senators’ offices. The switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.

To send an email to your Senators, go to www.senate.gov; click on “Find Your Senators”. Look up your Senators by state; go to their web sites for e-mail addresses.

For now, DeVos is only the nominee for Secretary of Education, and she is totally inappropriate for the job in more ways than I can address in this article. It is important to come out early and to come out strongly against her nomination, so that perhaps a more appropriate secretary is elected.