The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on May 14 to block Title IX amendments added in early May by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The suit was announced shortly after the U.S. Department of Education finalized a rule that will fundamentally change the way Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is enforced and implemented in schools across the country. Title IX is the longstanding civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.
Opponents of DeVos’ changes to Title IX object to several new rules that they say would will slash schools’ obligations to respond to reports of sexual harassment and assault, and discourage female students from bringing charges against their attackers.
“Reports of sexual harassment (would receive) a different and more skeptical review than reports of harassment based on race, national origin, or disability — creating a second-class standard for reports of sexual harassment and assault,” the ACLU said in a press statement announcing the suit.
DeVos’ new rules would force colleges to hold live hearings as part of sexual-assault investigations. The hearings would permit attorneys for students accused of sexual assault to cross-examine their accusers.
Advocates for victims say the trauma of public hearings would have a chilling effect on victims' willingness to come forward.
“The new Title IX regulations are a blatant threat to the years of work to create safe, supportive academic environments for students across the gender spectrum,” said Ashley C. Sawyer, policy director at Girls for Gender Equity, in a prepared statement. “We want to do everything we can to ensure that the true spirit and original intent of Title IX remains, to ensure that everyone has meaningful access to education, without being hindered by sexual violence.”
Specific provisions opposed by advocates of women’s rights include new rules that:
- Redefine sexual harassment to exclude conduct that until now was included in the department’s definition and that would be recognized as harassment if based on race, national origin, or disability;
- Direct schools to ignore many Title IX reports of sexual harassment and assault that occur off campus or during study abroad, including in students’ homes;
- Require college and university students to report sexual harassment or assault to the “right” official or their complaints do not have to be even investigated; and
- Allow — and, in some cases, require — schools to use a higher standard of proof for reports of sexual harassment and assault than is required for other harassment proceedings.
DeVos is a former vice president for the anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family, which promotes the use of so-called conversion therapy to turn lesbians, gays and transgenders into straights. Such “treatment” has been denounced by all major medical and psychological associations and many states have banned it. Focus on the Family was funded, at least in part, by DeVos’ billionaire parents.
Evangelical religions view women as “vessels” who were created to take care of men by bearing their children and maintaining their homes. Some hard-core believers say that victims of sexual assault likely bring it on themselves.
In a 2001 interview for The Gathering, which promotes fundamentalist Christianity through philanthropy, DeVos said that she and her husband Dick desire “to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”
Perhaps her changes to Title IX are a step in what she considers to be that direction.