September 22, 2017

A New Approach to Enforcement on Campus Sex Assault

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has vowed to replace key Obama-era guidance outlining how colleges should respond to reports of sexual violence, saying that her agency’s previous approach had failed too many students. This collection of Chronicle articles explores what the government’s new approach to enforcement might mean for sexual-assault survivors, accused students, and colleges.

Campus administrators say they’ll stay the course in responding to sexual assault for now, but they’re anxious about what’s to come.

Here’s a guide to the Education Department’s question-and-answer document on campus sexual assault, which contains changes that are already stirring controversy.

After a speech by the education secretary, a spokeswoman said that, until the revision of the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, the department would “make clear to schools how to fulfill their current obligations under Title IX.”

The education secretary will make a “major policy address on Title IX enforcement” on Thursday, and advocates fear a landmark directive from the Obama era is in the cross hairs.

Under President Trump, the Education Department’s civil-rights office is cutting through the backlog of cases more quickly, more quietly, and more often through “administrative closure.”

These students and their allies stress that they want the campus disciplinary process to be fair. But that’s not all they’re fighting for.

“We need to get this right,” Ms. DeVos said of preventing and responding to campus sexual assault. But she offered no specifics on her plans for change.

Candice Jackson stirred outrage ahead of a Title IX summit by asserting that the vast majority of sexual-assault complaints “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.’”

Activists on all sides of the fraught debate over campus sexual assault and Title IX enforcement are meeting with the education secretary this week. Some of them talked with The Chronicle about their priorities for those conversations.

The Trump administration is responding to their frustrations about guidance on how to deal with sexual assaults, campus legal officials say.

After the president’s election, speculation abounded that colleges might scale back their efforts to combat sexual violence. Instead, many Title IX coordinators are trying to chart a new path forward.

The Obama administration’s influential “Dear Colleague” letter on sexual assault reflected a desire to make assault prevention a national issue. Here’s how that document was born.

Even if the new president reduces or ends enforcement of the gender-equity law, colleges are likely to remain focused on the issue.