Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is re-evaluating the Obama administration’s guidelines on handling campus sexual assault under Title IX—she’s even turned to men’s rights activists for advice.
But if she decides to change the federal government’s interpretation of the law, at least 20 attorneys general say they will take “legal action” to protect victims.
Democratic attorney generals from over a dozen states sent a letter to DeVos on Wednesday, urging the education secretary to maintain the Obama administration’s 2011 directive on handling sexual assault investigations under Title IX, along with an expanded interpretation of the law issued by the White House’s campus rape task force in 2014.
“The 20 AGs who signed that letter were putting Secretary DeVos on notice that we support the current regulations, and if she rolls them back, then she will have us to deal with further,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who orchestrated the letter, told BuzzFeed News. “What I can tell you is we are committed to ensuring these protections stay in place. And if need be, we’ll take legal action to try and protect victims.”
The attorneys general collectively fear that DeVos is eager to remove the Obama administration’s Title IX guidelines and implement a much more lenient approach to campus rape. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas calls this a “reckless approach to governing” that could “put students in danger,” according to BuzzFeed News. And the attorneys general’s letter is just as critical.
“While we recognize that there is a great deal more that can be done to protect students and agree on the importance of ensuring that investigations are conducted fairly, a rushed, poorly-considered effort to roll back current policies sends precisely the wrong message to all students,” the letter reads. “Yet there is every indication that is exactly the approach your Department is taking.”
The letter specifically criticizes Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson, who unfoundedly argued that 90 percent of all campus sexual assault allegations “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.'”
The letter say that Jackson’s comments show she “does not take [sexual assault survivors’] concerns seriously,” and that the Department of Education is “not committed” to fighting college sexual assault.
“Despite our concerns, we are committed to working collaboratively with your Department to address the problem of sexual assault on America’s college campuses. But any effort in this area must be deliberate and allow for meaningful input from all stakeholders, and it must focus on the ultimate goal of ensuring that all students are protected from discrimination,” the letter states.