Sexual Misconduct on Campus

UVenus writers respond to recent guidance issued by Secretary DeVos.

October 2, 2017

On September 22, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued guidance granting colleges and universities additional discretion in compliance with regards to the Title IX law to resolve and adjudicate allegations of sexual misconduct on campus.

Some see this as a move towards protecting the rights of the accused at the expense of the rights of the victims.

If you are in the U.S., do you think this will change the climate on your campus? If you are outside the U.S., how does your institution deal with sexual misconduct?


Gwendolyn Beetham, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Although I do not work directly in the area, I do see this move as a step back for gender equity in higher education which, at its root, is what Title IX is meant to support. Students who are disproportionately at risk for sexual assault (that is, women) do not receive the same chances for educational opportunities as those who do not face these risks. It really is that clear. Universities need to be held accountable to all students, and we know from past experience that enforcing policies like Title IX is the way to get us there. For example, prior to the Jeanne Clery Act, universities were not required to keep or make available any data on crime on campus, a neglect proved deadly for the Act’s namesake, Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in her college dormitory in 1986. So while I would like to believe that universities and colleges will “do the right thing” and support Title IX regardless of directives from this administration, my long history in academia tells me that, with no accountability mechanisms in place, many institutions will decide to revert resources away from the important programs that have supported anti-sexual assault measures over the past few years. If this happens, our universities will become less equitable spaces for learning.


Mary Churchill, Boston, MA, USA

When I was an undergraduate student in the 1980’s, acquaintance rape was commonplace at the large public university I attended. However, most folks didn’t call it rape. Most of us knew that a night out could easily end with assault and for many of us, it did. In retrospect, I would liken it to a war zone of sorts, a minefield littered with a variety of forms of sexual misconduct.  At that point, marital rape was still legal in some states and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale had just been published. We have made amazing strides forward since but we still have far to go. I am encouraged by those on our campuses who speak out against assault and I want to make sure that we continue to create spaces where they feel comfortable doing so, where the assaulters fear being caught, and where the punishment for assault is substantial. In the 1980s, in many ways, our campuses were safe spaces or havens for the perpetrators. Progress is never truly linear and DeVos’s new guidance seems like a regression and, for some, it feels like an act of war with an accompanying flashback to a misconduct minefield.  

Janni Aragon, University of Victoria, BC, Canada

These changes are a step back, and I’m disappointed. We have made so much progress in the last 30 years and this decision is telling survivors: We don’t believe you, the alleged assailant’s rights are more important than your rights, and all of the burden of proof is on you. I am sure that many have felt like they were treated like this before the change; however, this step back only makes things worse for women on college campuses. DeVos seems to want her portfolio to return to the bad old days of disempowering women and turning a blind eye to violence against women and other marginalized groups.

I’m an American immigrant living in British Columbia. The province has been clear, requiring all of the higher education institutions to have established policies regarding sexual assault and sexual misconduct. At the institution where I work, we have new staff who are focused on these efforts. I was recently at another university campus and saw their consent education everywhere. While De Vos is moving the US backwards, these programs in BC offered me hope.


Readers, how do you feel about this change? Is it a step backwards for victims?



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