Now that Betsy DeVos’ new Title IX rule has gone into effect, it’s time to evaluate what changes your school has made and take action to ensure our schools and states are doing everything possible to protect student survivors. In order to mitigate the harms of this rule, we need students to take action at both the school and state level. Below, we’ve broken down what steps you can take to organize around the new rule.
Organizing at your school:
First, you’ll need to analyze your school’s new policy, paying specific attention to where the policy falls short. Here are some major red flags to look out for and why they’re harmful:
- School does not use the preponderance of the evidence standard: The preponderance of the evidence standard is the only standard that holds the educations of both the complainant and respondent equally. Utilizing a clear and convincing standard tips the scale in favor of perpetrators.
- No process for addressing off-campus violence, violence that happens during study abroad programs, or harassment that isn’t severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive: The Department of Education has significantly limited what violence is covered under Title IX. With the new rule in effect, schools will be forced to dismiss the majority of allegations of sexual violence or harassment, even though all violence and harassment can impact one’s ability to access their education. But, schools can create separate sexual misconduct policies not under Title IX to intervene in instances of violence and harassment that don’t meet the heightened standard or that occur off-campus or abroad.
- No or unclear timeline: The Department of Education has removed any specific timeline for completing investigations. While the rule says responses must be reasonably prompt, without clarity on what is considered prompt, it’s now easier than ever for schools to drag out cases with impunity until the involved students graduate or drop out.
- Does not grant interim measures and accommodations to survivors whose reports don’t fall within the Title IX rule: The new rule says schools are only required to offer interim measures to those whose cases fall under Title IX. Interim measures that help keep a survivor in school, such as no-contact orders, extensions on school assignments, and classroom or dorm changes should be offered to all student survivors, regardless of whether the violence or harassment faced is covered under Title IX.
- Not providing attorneys for cross-examination: The new rule requires live, direct cross-examination by the advisor of each party’s choosing. Many respondents will choose to utilize attorneys, putting survivors at a disadvantage if they choose to use a confidential victim advocate as their advisor. Schools should provide an attorney advisor at no cost to those who request it.
- No amnesty policy for conduct code violations that occurred during violence: Survivors can be deterred from reporting if they fear getting in trouble for breaking school rules, for example, if a student was drinking or using drugs in their dorm on campus when the violence occurred. This is particularly relevant at religious schools where students can be punished for having sex before marriage. Schools should implement amnesty policies to ensure students are protected from disciplinary action when reporting violence.
- No confidential services for student survivors: In light of COVID-19 budget cuts and changes made to Title IX, some schools are considering cutting confidential victim advocates and other confidential services for survivors. These services are absolutely critical for student survivors. Instead of reducing these programs, schools should ensure respondents also have access to someone that can assist them in navigating the Title IX process.
- No clear process for addressing violence within a remote learning context: The final rule is vague about school’s responsibilities to respond to cyber harassment and violence, which is especially detrimental in the midst of a global pandemic that has resulted in classes being moved online. Schools should make it clear that sexual harassment that occurs online will be covered by the school’s sexual misconduct policy.
Next, consider what your school does in reality and how you’ll hold your administrators accountable. It’s not uncommon for schools to say one thing in policy but do another in action. For example, schools may have a policy to complete an investigation within 60 days but may actually take several months on average. Can you count on your school to do what their policies say? If not, it’s time to apply pressure to hold your school accountable.
Previously, students could file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights if their school was violating Title IX, but because this administration’s goal is to reduce school’s responsibility to respond to violence, the federal government may be far less helpful than in the past. That means student organizing is absolutely critical for holding your school accountable. Student power can have a huge impact. Consider going to the press to bring awareness to your school’s shortcomings, get donors and alums to commit to not donating until the school implements better policies, and utilize social media to blast your school and make others aware of what’s going on.
Finally, if your school has implemented problematic policies or policies that fall short, it’s not too late to make a change. You can still use this toolkit and petition to demand your school implement policies that do more to protect student survivors. Additionally, many schools will be staring off with interim Title IX policies as they finalize the processes. This is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the harms of the new rule and offer solutions. Check out these sections of our toolkit for help on building a team, planning your campaign, and working with the media.
Organizing for change in your state:
While state policy can’t be in conflict with the new rule, legislators can protect survivors across their state by proactively passing bills that mitigate the harms of the new rule. Know Your IX has crafted policy recommendations in seven areas:
- Standard of evidence;
- Transparency measures;
- Access to comprehensive accommodations;
- Resolving complaints in a timely manner;
- Ensuring schools respond to all sexual violence that impacts survivors’ educations
- Fair hearing processes
- Barring discrimination based on gender identity
Together, these recommendations can help ensure all students have access to an education free from discrimination:
In order to move legislation, we need passionate and driven students in each state ready to organize other student activists in the area. That’s why we’re launching Know Your IX’s State Ambassador program. Becoming a KYIX State Ambassador is a fantastic volunteer opportunity for students with policy or organizing experience looking to deepen their leadership skills while working in coalition with local activists. As a State Ambassador, you’ll be a point-person who, with the help of Know Your IX, will be responsible for mobilizing students in your state around our policy demands and other state bills. If you’re interested in leading students in the fight to ensure statewide protections for survivors, apply today.
There’s no doubt that this rule will cause widespread harm to student survivors, so we need everyone’s help to try and right the wrongs of this administration. We’re in for a tough fight, but we know the power student activists have when we come together to create change.