Possible changes to Title IX spark criticism


By Abbey Sullivan

In November 2018, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced proposed changes for Title IX, a federal civil rights law that passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. If enacted, this would mean changes to how colleges and universities respond to sexual assault and harassment allegations.

Title IX says that “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.”

Many are worried, however, that if DeVos’ proposed changes come to pass that Title IX will fall short when it comes to protecting students in cases of sexual harassment, assault and gender discrimination.

“What’s really concerning about the proposed changes is they will redefine the ways schools can and/or must respond to victims of gender and sexual violence,” said Dr. Jessie Ramey, director of Chatham University’s Women’s Institute and associate professor of women and gender studies. “It really rolls back students’ rights.”

The proposed change that could be most damaging, according to Dr. Ramey, is redefining what constitutes a reportable offense of sexual harassment or violence.

“Such conduct would have to be ‘severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.’ You could have a student that is raped once, and it would be considered severe and objectively offensive, but it would not meet the pervasive requirement,” Dr. Ramey said.

After DeVos announced the proposed revisions, feedback was welcomed during a 60-day comment period that expired Jan. 30. The Department of Education received thousands of comments, many of which criticized the potential changes.

An intern at Chatham’s Women’s Institute, stressed the importance of Title IX for all college campuses.

“Title IX … is all about the protection of students’ rights and freedoms to obtain an education,” she said. “A student’s safety is part of the right to an education, especially when it is based on their sex, gender, race, etc.”

What this Women’s Institute intern found most concerning is the leeway colleges may have regarding what actions they take against reported incidents.

“Universities can do the bare minimum in handling situations of sexual assault and harassment, which many of them do, and allow for sexual predators and assaulters to remain on campus without any consequences,” she said.

Dr. Ramey said students shouldn’t feel disempowered by these possible adjustments, though. Instead, it’s a time to speak out.

“There is good news,” she said. “When the proposed changes were leaked back in the fall, there was a huge outcry and pushback by legal scholars and feminist lawyers to get people to submit commentary. …What we’re being told is that our voices really do make a difference. We should feel empowered.”