by Nicholas Kalin, President, ACS George Mason University School of Law Student Chapter, and Arya Shirani, Vice President, ACS George Mason University School of Law Student Chapter
US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University’s Arlington campus to announce changes to the previous protocols regarding Title IX and sexual assault.
If the proposed policy shifts are put into place, sexual assault survivors will face greater pressure to contact the police instead of speaking to a trusted member of their university. Supporters of the previous policy state that students have been more comfortable reporting sexual assaults since the present policies took effect. We believe that the heightened requirement and the greater burden of proof required will make it less likely for survivors to come forward. We believe that the previous policy, while imperfect, allowed survivors to occupy a safer and more comfortable learning environment. This is a dangerous precedent to set. While we hope that not a single rape will occur and these policies will never be needed, we realize that is not the world we live in. The further weakening of Title IX practices and returning power to the schools will only erase the advances made for the rights of sexual assault survivors.
Secretary DeVos’s statements at Antonin Scalia Law School on Thursday were inappropriate in a top research university’s law school and her policy proposals did not provide solutions for any existing problems. Her suggested policy shift should be unacceptable to our university. As students, we urge university administrators both here at Mason, and across the country, to remain committed to minimizing rape and sexual assault on campus while also providing resources for survivors by continuing the Title IX practices that have been followed for the past 6 years. Colleges and universities should reaffirm their commitment to providing a safe learning environment for all, regardless of a relaxation of requirements. As the top education official, Secretary DeVos has a duty to protect all students in this country and not just those who are accused of a sexual assault. Her proposed policies do not do this. They turn the clock back on decades, if not hundreds of years, of advancements that human rights activists have fought for.