Title IX comment period sees unprecedented number of comments from advocates, survivors and others

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled her plan in November to revise Title IX regulations on how campuses handle cases of sexual assault that, she says, would better protect the accused. The clap back has been profound. The stakes are high. When new Title IX rules are finalized, they will be the law.

In the last 60 day period when the U.S. Federal Register formally published the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, advocates, survivors, and others submitted over 100,000 comments – an estimated 20 times what is typically received for a major regulatory proposal.

In an era when sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse will no longer be tolerated, campuses should be championing a culture of safety and respect on campus. This level of commentary shows that there has been significant discussion about what’s working on campuses and what’s not.

One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college and more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. The rates are even higher – 1 in 4 – undergraduate students who are transgender or gender non-conforming. Since 2016, anecdotal evidence shows acts of campus harassment and violence have increased.

DeVos’ proposed changes go against what experts are saying about these cases and over 900 mental health professionals agreed. So much has to go right for survivors of sexual violence. They have to trust systems that time and time again are ill-equipped to support trauma survivors. Many students understand this all too well having experienced violence prior to college in their childhoods and adolescence.

Advocates are concerned these new regulations will make it harder for survivors to want to report and also increase harm for those who do report. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV)—one of the three national sexual violence prevention organizations that lead RALIANCE—joined the thousands of advocates in submitting a comment that highlighted the devastating impact that the proposed rule would have on our schools and student survivors.

DeVos’ revisions would reduce campus liability making them only required to examine cases that take place on campus. They would require students to report sexual misconduct to “an official who has the authority to institute corrective measures” rather than a trusted peer like a residential adviser. And they would define sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” And very concerning is language requiring colleges to hold live hearings where both sides have a chance to cross-examine testimony.

With this level of public commentary, as well as scrutiny by the 116th Congress, it’s time the Department of Education listen to the experts.