Click here for updates on the evolving COVID-19 situation at Rice
Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Saturday, January 23, 2021 — Houston, TX 46°

From safe schools to hostile courtrooms: How Betsy DeVos’ new Title IX regulations harm survivors

Courtesy Alissa Kono

By Alissa Kono     5/19/20 2:48pm

Content warning: This opinion contains references to sexual violence.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked and edited for clarity and concision by Thresher editors. 

In the midst of a global pandemic, Betsy DeVos, the United States Secretary of Education, announced new Title IX regulations that govern how schools handle allegations of sexual assault and harrassment. Under the guise of restoring due process, the changes harm and undermine survivors by enhancing protections for those accused of misconduct.  

The new regulations show that DeVos plans to narrow the necessary gap between campus proceedings and courtroom hearings. A few major changes include a narrowed definition of sexual harassment, higher evidenciary requirements and the allowance of direct cross examinations of both parties in Title IX hearings – standards that reflect the likeness of a legal system not designed for protecting survivors

Schools are not courtrooms for a reason. Through Title IX hearings, students can utilize disciplinary procedures through their institution without having to file criminal charges. School-led proceedings  provide options for students who would not be able to afford representation in court and, more importantly, give survivors the opportunity to hold their perpetrator accountable in a safe environment to  accommodate the trauma of experiencing sexual violence. With stricter definitions and altered standards for launching investigations, it is ultimately survivors who must shoulder the burden of navigating the new requirements if they choose to report while enduring the retraumatization of cross examination or dismissal due to tightened restrictions. Those same survivors must also face scrutiny and doubt, self-hatred and social isolation and seemingly infinite barriers to tell their story due to the stigma against survivors that predates Title IX. In the long run, these new regulations set educational institutions across the country on a dangerous path of simulating legal systems at the cost of the safety of survivors. 

DeVos’ decision to release the Title IX regulations, despite significant public pushback in response to the proposed changes in 2018 and an unprecedented pandemic, is alarming, yet not surprising. The Secretary of Education has a history of demonstrating sympathy for accused perpetrators, such as meeting with groups that advocate for the rights of accused students as well as the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group. Furthermore, DeVos’ family foundation has made substantial donations to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that frequently sides with students accused of rape and sponsored a lawsuit against 2011 Title IX guidelines that pushed colleges to do more about sexual misconduct allegations.  

Beyond the political implications, public awareness of Title IX regulations is more important now than ever. Institutions, including Rice, must be transparent in their implementation of new standards and how these changes affect survivors. Carelessly blurring the distinction between a courthouse and a college means silencing survivors and handing the microphone to the accused.

In response to these changes, Rice students and community members can urge the Rice administration to choose options that create the least harm for survivors by signing onto a petition and statement put forth by the Student Association and Students Transforming Rice into a Violence-Free Environment. By upholding crucial measures such as a more equitable standard of evidence, the recommendations prioritize the safety of survivors over the liability of institutions and preserve the supportive structure that distinguishes Rice procedures from that of the criminal justice system. 

More from The Rice Thresher

OPINION 1/19/21 5:54pm
Let’s heal how we talk about food

How should we discuss food, then? I don’t want to be misunderstood as advising against all food-related conversations. I feel quite the opposite: eating is one of humanity’s oldest social rituals. It’s meant to bring us together. We’re at our best when we engage in conversations that center the enjoyment of food rather than its nutritional content. 

OPINION 12/9/20 11:05pm
Re-return to campus — but to what end?

The first wave of COVID-19 erupted in the U.S. in early 2020. Rice responded quickly: During March 9-15, classes for the week preceding Spring Break were canceled, students were instructed not to return to campus after Spring Break, and instruction after Spring Break was made fully remote. This quick reaction to the pandemic was typical of many organizations and localities all around the country, as it became clear that social distancing was then the only effective way to slow down the spread of the disease. This seems to have worked and, by early May, the first wave was somewhat subsiding. The Rice administration then tasked the Academic Restart Committee with the mission of “Return to Rice.” 

OPINION 12/4/20 12:13pm
Let’s reevaluate music as a social resource

To be sure, a poetic analogy between music and our differences will not resolve any issues directly. It can, however, remind us of our shared humanity. It can get us back in touch with our nature as social animals. It is a nature that is often oppressed by the individualism in our capitalistic society that encourages competition, putting too much focus on the dissonances for our own good. 


Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.