By Madeleine Orona Burgos
Last month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Department of Education would be amending federal policy on sexual misconduct specific to college campuses. The New York Times (NYT) wrote that these new policies will “bolster the rights of the students accused of assault, harassment, or rape, reduce liability for institutions of higher education and encourage schools to provide more support for victims.” The article explained that the Trump administration would “narrow the definition of sexual harassment,” only investigating “formal complaints” and creating “a higher legal standard to determine whether schools improperly [address] complaints.” This alteration of Obama-era regulations has proven to be untimely. Many institutions across the country, from the University of Southern California to Michigan State University, have seen high ranking officials charged with or convicted of serious sexual misconduct crimes.
The NYT went on to say that in the wake of President Obama’s heightened policies regarding sexual misconduct, many administrators felt burdened by “bureaucratic mandates.” But when it comes to making sure the safety of students is ensured, can it be considered a “burden”? In paying for higher education, students expect that their tuition will not only go towards learning, but also a secure learning environment, one in which they are protected and feel safe. We expect our schools to accept that responsibility.
Recently, the Department of Justice gave 57 grants totalling $18 million to schools for the purpose of addressing sexual misconduct to offset rollbacks. It is worth noting that Lewis & Clark is the only college in Oregon to receive such a grant. If the Department of Education is rolling back guidelines, what is the motivation behind the Department of Justice issuing grants to only 57 colleges affected by changes to federal sexual assault policy? In the era of the #MeToo movement, this action appears to be a way for the Trump administration to shield aggressors and put more scrutiny on victims than ever before in order to maintain the “good ol’ boy” network that Republicans have been fostering for decades.
At the pinnacle of Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s recent testimonial hearings, both he and Trump lamented that Republicans are only under attack because of their party affiliation ― and establishment Republicans believed them. Yet at the same time, he cruelly mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and said it has put Kavanaugh’s “life in tatters.” Establishment Republicans did not believe her. Because they are changing the definition of acts of sexual misconduct while also putting college administrators under less federal scrutiny, they create an environment where victims are blamed for causing problems in place of their aggressors being punished for their actions.
By narrowing the definition of sexual misconduct, the Trump administration exposes its immense lack of understanding and empathy. The White House writes off the compassion necessary to support sexual assault survivors and is setting the stage for a system in which sexual violence can thrive. We as students, as decent human beings, cannot let that happen. It is important to have an open dialogue with our administration about how to most effectively use this grant to strengthen areas of sexual misconduct investigation that may be lacking.