Advocacy groups push for Title IX changes ahead of ‘double red zone’

Advocacy groups push for Title IX changes ahead of 'double red zone'


A campaign launched Monday by several advocacy organizations is demanding the Department of Education immediately begin rolling back changes made to Title IX last year, as a new academic year begins on campuses and the number of students at risk of experiencing sexual violence doubles.

At the heart of the #EDActNow campaign — led by the groups Know Your IX, End Rape on Campus, Equal Rights Advocates, It’s on Us and Girls Inc. — is a petition that asks Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Acting Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights Suzanne Goldberg to take three actions toward undoing the regulations for Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 put into place in 2020 under former secretary Betsy DeVos.

President Biden issued an executive order in March asking the department to re-examine the regulations — and revise them, if necessary. It held five days of public hearings on the Title IX rules in early June, but later that month, it was announced that the department doesn’t plan to release its proposed rule changes until May 2022.

“Students have already had an entire year of being burdened and harmed by this rule, and now, we’re already entering a new school year,” said Brenda Adams, senior counsel at Equal Rights Advocates. “Under Secretary Cardona’s plan, it would be at least the next school year before we would have new rules, and that’s just simply unacceptable.”

ED Act Now is a relaunch of a campaign that began in 2013, when advocates heard from survivors that they were being shrugged off by colleges and universities that were refusing to protect students from sexual assault. Now, they’re hearing those same stories again as a result of the recent regulations, said Sage Carson, manager of Know Your IX.

The petition demands that the department release its proposed changes by Oct. 1. It also asks the department to issue a nonenforcement directive for parts of the DeVos Title IX rule, specifically the sections that prevent institutions from following state or local laws that address sexual violence in education if they conflict with the regulations, require a live hearing and cross-examination for investigations, and limit the scope of off-campus misconduct complaints colleges must act upon to those that occurred in locations used by officially recognized student organizations. Those are the portions of the rule that limit who has access to their rights under Title IX, making them the focus for the organizations’ demands, said Carson.

The petition also asks the department to allow students to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights within 180 days of the most recent incident of discrimination. Under DeVos, the department changed the case-processing manual so that complainants only have 180 days from the first instance of alleged discrimination to file a complaint.

“The survivors that we specifically serve are students of color, lower-income students and students who identify in the LGBTQ+ communities — those specific marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by these rules,” said Kenyora Parham, executive director of End Rape on Campus. “We need the Department of Education to act right now and not wait another year or two years to undo the rule.”

The timing of these demands was not accidental. With students returning to campuses this month, they will enter the “red zone” — the time from when freshmen arrive until Thanksgiving break, when 50 percent of all sexual assaults take place. Freshmen are especially vulnerable, and this year will be a “double red zone,” since this will also be the first year that many sophomores are on campuses, said Adams.

“We have an entire class of people who have never set foot on campus who are basically freshmen,” Adams said. “We have a double red situation, where we have double the number of vulnerable students on campus. It can’t be more important than it is right now.”

In addition to the petition, the campaign’s website also includes a social media tool kit for supporters to promote the campaign on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and stories from survivors about how sexual violence and the DeVos Title IX rule have impacted them.

“I need Title IX because had I waited a little longer, I wouldn’t have been able to report my sexual assault under the new rule,” said one survivor who was a student at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.

Other survivor narratives describe how colleges and universities have failed to enforce Title IX or properly support victims of sexual assault, which makes it even more important for the department to send the message to institutions that it’s taking Title IX enforcement seriously.

“Right now, the department is sending a very confusing message to schools,” Carson said. “They’re saying, ‘We take this seriously and prioritize this’ but also ‘We won’t be starting this process of rolling them back for another year.’ Survivors have said that it’s not even DeVos’s rule itself that’s making it dangerous — it’s that their school thinks the Department of Education isn’t paying attention at all.”

A spokesperson for the department said that one of the guiding principles of OCR’s review is ensuring that colleges have grievance procedures that provide for the fair, prompt and equitable resolution of reports of sexual harassment and other sex discrimination but didn’t say whether it would be taking any further action on Title IX before next May.

Survivor advocate groups aren’t the only ones waiting for what the department does next. Other stakeholders, such as the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, are supportive of the DeVos regulations and want them to remain as is. FIRE sent a letter to Biden on his first day in office urging the administration to “reject the view that due process is harmful to complainants, and to adopt the view that fundamentally fair procedures benefit all.”

As for the campaign, its Oct. 1 deadline is quickly approaching, but some say that date is already too late for survivors.

“Oct. 1 may be soon from now, but Oct. 1 is far away from when Biden took office,” Carson noted. “His campaign ran on the promise of undoing the attack on survivors’ rights. If this is a priority for the administration, Oct. 1 is a gracious deadline to be calling on them to take this action.”



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