U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has issued proposed amendments to sexual harrassment guidance for schools referred to as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The proposed amendments have been criticized for giving more power to those accused of sexual harrassment, and making it harder for victims to report assault.
Title IX is a law that amended civil rights legislation to declare sex to be a protected class under the law. It has been used to enforce protection for women in any school using federal funding, which may include many public and private universities via direct assistance funding or grants. It essentially governs how schools are legally obligated to handle sexual assault claims, so as to not deny someone an education because of an assault.
Under former President Obama Title IX protections had been strengthened using such language as: "If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” This helped respond to response to bullying and ostracizing that can occur on victims of sexual assault in learning environments.
DeVos claims, however, that her proposed amendments to the law as proposed by the U.S. Department of Education "provides clarity for schools, support for survivors, and due process rights for all."
The proposal for Title IX include plans to narrow the definition of sexual misconduct to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” One criticism of this is that in a context where only about 20 percent of victims report sexual assault, even more will be hesitant to do so because they won't know what situation constitutes "severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive."
Another key provision is the restiction making schools responsible for protecting victims only if an assault happens on campus. However, in an environment where there is limited student housing, or student housing is prohibitively expensive, people may live outside of campus, often with multiple roomates to save costs.
The main argument for these new provisions is to reduce the cost of education by reducing the liability that schools are federally mandated to provide to their students. What some have argued this will do is simply protect sexual assault perpetrators from any kind of punishment, and leave victims out in the cold.
DeVos has been a controversial figure in U.S. politics, barely making it through her confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate. She has been accused of favoring the wealthy by reducing funding for public schools and pushing for charter schools.