Betsy DeVos’ ‘listening sessions’ spark backlash over sexual assault policies

Posted at 5:30 PM, Jul 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 17:30:24-04

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will host a series of “listening sessions” on Thursday afternoon for various groups impacted by Title IX as part of the Department of Education’s re-evaluation of Obama-era policies regarding sexual assault on college campuses.

Scheduled to be in attendance include representatives from a men’s rights group, as well as sexual assault survivors and representatives from educational institutions, according to a news release from the Department of Education.

The event initially sparked backlash when it was announced that students and parents involved in the National Coalition for Men Carolinas would be present, but comments made to The New York Times by the Education Department’s head for the Office of Civil Rights thrust the issue into the spotlight.

The acting head of the Education Department’s civil rights office, Candice Jackson, said Title IX investigation processes have not been “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student,” and “Rather, the accusations — 90% of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,'” according to The New York Times report, published Wednesday.

Title IX is a federal law prohibiting “discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity,” included in this is protection from sexual harassment, according to the Department of Justice.

The Thursday afternoon event was preceded by a rally, attended by people who oppose President Donald Trump administration’s handling of various Title IX protections.

Activists and politicians gathered out front of the Department of Education on Thursday morning to voice opposition to potential changes to the civil rights law by the Trump administration and share personal stories of sexual assault.

“I’m here today because this issue came to be because young people spoke out. Women dragged mattresses around college campuses to make the point that they weren’t safe. They awakened in us a responsibility to address this issue,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, said at the rally.

“If Secretary DeVos rolls back these protections, justice will not be possible,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, told reporters.

Jackson has since walked back her comments according to The New York Times, but efforts to push back against DeVos on the issue remain.

When asked about Jackson’s comments at the rally, Speier said: “I must say that I was dismayed, and I believed that she is not well versed on the issue. She needs to become much more educated about what her responsibilities are.”

In February, the Department of Education rolled back protections for transgender students in public schools who used and facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.

The Obama administration interpreted Title IX to include these transgender student protections. However, in a letter, the Trump administration said the policies did not provide “extensive legal analysis” or “explain how the position is consistent with the express language of Title IX.”

“To now have — not just a president who has a reputation of denigrating women — but to have a secretary of education who wants to roll back rights for transgender kids and roll back the protections that college students and young women have gotten against sexual assault is sickening,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said at the event Thursday morning.