The University sends us a million emails every week. I skip by most of them; the ones that involve FUSA events and the new opera at the Regina A. Quick Center go unread in my inbox. It was only on Sept. 22 that an email Fairfield sent us gave me an actual reaction: the announcement of a Title IX policy update to adhere with a new Department of Education guidance made my stomach drop. If I didn’t like or agree with our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos before, this new measure brings my opinion of her to rock bottom.
The Obama-era Dear Colleague letter stated the need for universities to have a “preponderance of evidence” approach to handle cases of sexual misconduct. The basics of it looked for schools to seek evidence so that it was more likely than not that the accused was guilty. These new guidelines, however, “encourage schools to apply a higher ‘clear and convincing’ standard,” as The Daily Beast reports. This isn’t the same as being tried in a criminal court, but could result in serious consequences for the accused if they are found guilty. It’s also important to note that these guidelines are mandates that aren’t being fully enforced, and that schools are only being highly encouraged, and not required, to uphold these measures. Fairfield, however, is accepting these new policies wholeheartedly. In the email that was sent out, it was stated that the school will be revising its Title IX policy so that it “include[s] all revisions necessary to be in compliance with the new guidance from the Department of Education.”
So I guess I have a bone to pick with both the Secretary of Education and with Fairfield University. I’ve heard too many stories about sexual assault taking place on and off college campus, whether from speakers at my high school to friends of mine. The idea that this policy, which can be found on the Department of Education’s website, lends more leniency to the accused, doesn’t allow victims to appeal a case and makes it harder to prove a sexual misconduct took place, makes me sick to my stomach. Everything has to be taken with a grain of salt and while I don’t believe these new guidelines entirely enable sexual assault to go on freely, I do believe that making it harder to get justice for those who were victimized is not the way to go.
Let me debunk something for those who still have doubt about it: no one, not one person, asks to be sexually assaulted. Nobody comes out to speak about it because of the want for attention, because no one wants to be known as “the person who was sexually assaulted.” I say “person” because woman or man, no one asks for this to happen, and no one comes out to speak about it and goes through the struggle of an investigative case and the judgement of others for attention. As a woman, I want to know that the campus I walk around on is safe, and though I don’t think these guidelines will encourage more assaults to occur, it doesn’t help things, and could set a dangerous precedent for how perpetrators will not be held accountable.
This isn’t even entirely about safety either. This is about the value this University and this country places on sexual assault victims and their traumas, along with women in general. In reference to women on college campuses, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) they “are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.” The rolling-out of this new policy, whether it was purposeful or not, sends a message that disregards women’s health and safety, and assumes the issue of rape and sexual misconduct on college campuses will sort itself out.
This new Title IX update is disheartening on a number of levels, but mostly in terms of the lack of regard this administration seems to have for women’s well-being. Betsy DeVos’ inability to stand up for the women, specifically the women seeking an education in America, is, frankly, deplorable.