On Friday, the Education Department rescinded Obama-era guidelines on how universities and colleges address campus sexual assault, putting “interim rules in place,” the AP reports.
The guidelines, known as the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, required schools to lower the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of evidence used in criminal court to a preponderance of evidence, in line with studies that have shown sexual assault is exceedingly common, false reports are rare, and rape is underreported and rarely prosecuted. The Education Department also rescinded the 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX Sexual Violence, replacing it with their own interim Q&A on Campus Sexual Misconduct that allows schools to use “the evidence standard or a clear and convincing evidence standard.”
The policy shift comes two weeks after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her intention to end the “era of rule by letter.” DeVos, who in July met with survivors, university administrators, the wrongfully accused and—most controversially—men’s rights activists, criticized the Obama-era policies as intimidating and coercive in her speech earlier this month.
“This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” DeVos said in a press release. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
Survivor advocates, who have been expecting the repeal for weeks, say that by undoing the DCL, DeVos is turning backwards. “We are hoping that they’d be willing to work with us on actual worries that survivors have, or actual things that survivors have about Title IX not being upheld on their campuses, and how they can help, but instead we’re just hearing that there are two sides to a story, a narrative that this administration has pushed often when it comes to experiencing violence and oppression,” Know Your IX Manager Sage Carson told Jezebel earlier this month.
“The reason why the DCL exists is because it was supposed to remind schools of what their obligations are under Title IX and give concrete examples of what that looks like,” said End Rape on Campus co-founder and Director of Education Sofie Karasek in a phone conversation about the anticipated repeal a few days prior to the official announcement. It’s guidance that helps schools “be in compliance with Title IX and to provide equal access to education for your students.”
DeVos doesn’t have the power to dismantle Title IX, a federal law, but the elimination of the DCL may weaken enforcement against sexual assault on college campuses. “What is the impact of the going to be on students, who all of a sudden don’t know whether their schools are going to be tackling campus rape as hard as they were before?” Karasek asked. “But maybe they weren’t even doing much of anything, so now there’s really no incentive. It sends a message to schools and survivors and to other students about what matters and that’s evidently not survivors.”