Opinion: Violating Title IX? No problem, according to Betsy DeVos

Berkeley High should ensure survivors of sexual assault or harassment can avoid contact with the alleged perpetrator, switching classes, if necessary.

As a 16-year-old girl living with a sister with whom I fight constantly, I know the injustice of someone getting off scot-free for their actions. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just pertain to sibling rivalries. It also applies to the lack of accountability our universities are held to by the Department of Education—particularly, accountability for violations of Title IX.

As many people know, Title IX is a law that protects against discrimination based on gender, most famously regarding sports funding. But it encompasses many more historically unprotected rights, one of which is the rights of sexual harassment survivors. For instance, all schools must provide a means for a survivor of sexual assault or harassment to avoid contact with the alleged perpetrator, such as the perpetrator switching classes or living spaces1. But few schools, particularly universities, actually follow all the Title IX guidelines. In fact, as of June 2016, there were 195 universities and colleges being investigated for Title IX non-compliance regarding sexual harassment cases2.

But these investigations actually amount to very little. Since Title IX was passed into law in 1972, not a single school has ever lost any federal funding for Title IX violations3. The supposed crack-down on sexual violence on college campuses under the Obama administration didn’t help much either; since 2014, when a federal law passed that required all colleges and universities to report instances of sexual or partner violence, only 9% of schools have actually reported anything4. And that definitely isn’t because sexual and partner violence isn’t happening on campus—one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college5.

The government isn’t seriously punishing schools or holding them accountable. And unfortunately, under the current administration, accountability has begun to decrease even more. Betsy DeVos, current secretary of the Department of Education, is planning to roll back some of Obama’s attempts to get schools to comply with Title IX, like his administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter sent to schools which gives strict guidelines as to how they should comply with the law. But DeVos thinks it’s time we listened to the accused rapists instead, since she believes the stories of the wrongly accused are “not often told”6. Perhaps this may be due to the fact that only 2% to 8% of all reported rape cases are actually found to be false7. If DeVos’ changes are implemented, sexual assault survivors everywhere may lose what little voice they have, and schools will continue to go unpunished for their lack of support to survivors.

This issue hits close to home—both UC Berkeley and Berkeley High have been called out for Title IX non-compliance in recent years. In 2016, the provost of UC Berkeley resigned after coming under fire for how he handled sexual assault cases. At Berkeley High, I am a member of the student organization BHS Stop Harassing. We make frequent attempts to ask the school board to take its Title IX violations seriously with limited success. Berkeley High still does not comply with key parts of Title IX, such as the aforementioned right of survivors to be separated from alleged perpetrators in school so their academics won’t suffer.

If you want to be the voice that stops these injustices, join the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland as we fight to support the rights of survivors on college campuses. As a YWCA advocacy summer intern and high school student at Berkeley High, I am part of the collective power raising awareness to end sexual violence on campus. As the back-to-school season begins, one of the most common times for sexual violence to occur, it is crucial that the voices of survivors are not drowned out, but amplified.

The YWCA Berkeley/Oakland will be using this back-to-school season to raise awareness of sexual violence on campus. My goal this year is to educate survivors of their rights and resist any efforts by the Department of Education to empower only the voices of those accused of rape on campuses.

As a high school student and member of BHS Stop Harassing, I also hope to inform students on Berkeley High’s campus about services available to them so that survivors of sexual violence feel supported. In a recent survey taken at our school, 840 students reported being sexually harassed on campus during the school year. This is unacceptable. I also plan to make sure the school board takes sexual harassment and assault on campus seriously and implements tangible policies to protect the student body. My hope is that I can start to break the cycle of sexual violence on campuses before I enter my freshmen year in college.

[1] https://www.knowyourix.org/college-resources/title-ix/).

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/title-ix-investigations-sexual-harassment_us_575f4b0ee4b053d433061b3d).

[3] https://feminist.org/education/TitleIXQA.pdf).

[4] http://crosscut.com/2016/08/exposing-sexual-violence-on-washington-college-campuses-universities-wsu-uw-whitman/).

[5] https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf).

[6] https://thinkprogress.org/devos-campus-rape-6771ac1ca81d/).

[7] http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf).

Maren Frye is a 16-year-old Berkeley resident who is entering her junior year at Berkeley High School.