Last Thursday, United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she would be rescinding the Obama administration’s directives regarding Title IX law and sexual discrimination in higher education, which informed a set of policies and guidelines for sexual assault and sexual harassment cases. In its place, she aims to implement a set of guidelines that will level the rights of survivors and the accused, despite vigorous objections from many women’s groups.
This is not an unforeseen development; Harvard student activists have been concerned about how DeVos will handle the Title IX directive since the day she was confirmed. Harvard’s acting Title IX Officer responded to DeVos’s proposal swiftly, remarking that he was “confident this will not mean a course change for Harvard at all.”
Now push has come to shove, and Harvard needs to stand by that statement. We hope the University will take decisive action to protect the safety and rights of its students.
The dismantling of the Title IX guidance affects a wide range of Harvard students and has far-reaching implications across campus. The reinterpretation disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community, who are targeted at higher rates than others. It is therefore important that Harvard’s administration focus especially on protections for LGBTQ members.
At the heart of the former Title IX policy were the survivors of sexual assault, and without the federal infrastructure in place, Harvard must review and reinforce their standing policies on sexual assault. The Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX established systems for survivors of sexual assault to seek help and justice, and now Harvard must take on the responsibility of preserving these important systems on campus, such as the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response as well as Counseling and Mental Health Services. Harvard must combat the narrative of DeVos’s decision—automatically doubting survivors’ allegations of sexual assault—and, instead, fully attend to students involved in sexual harassment cases.
The University must also be aware of how this reversal might affect its student population, especially those who may have been previously inclined to forgo sexual consent. Classes and seminars on sexual education, consent, and University resources are more important now than ever. Harvard must continue to increase its attentiveness to issues of sexual assault on campus and reassure its students that there are still systems of protection in place.
However, the reinterpretation of Title IX will not only affect Harvard. Other universities will also be forced to jostle administrative allocations and resources to compensate for this loss in order to continue protecting their students from sexual assault. We do not believe the onus of this financial burden should be placed solely on the shoulders of these other universities (as well as our own). It then becomes as issue of chance; one student may attend a school dedicated to this issue but another might not be so lucky. Standardization is key, and we hope that education of and protection from sexual assault and harassment is a priority overall.
In tearing down the Obama administration’s efforts to protect students through Title IX, we hope that the intentions of DeVos and the current administration were not to simply overturn every action under President Obama. Winning a political war does not justify endangering young Americans. Survivors of sexual assault deserve better than that. Going forward, the desire to carry out due process for both parties must inform the replacement of this program in order for the policy to truly protect students from sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. We hope Harvard and other universities around the country address will address this issue and protect their students.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
Sexual Assault IS Our FaultAs founders of the Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign, we write to clarify how rape culture operates and how it complicates the responsibility of community members.
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