President Joe Biden’s administration released Thursday a proposal that would provide stronger protections against sex and gender discrimination on college campuses as well as for anyone who claims they were the victim of sexual assault on campus.
The changes seek to overhaul a federal rule known as Title IX, which mandates federal regulations that affect men’s and women’s college athletics teams, how universities investigate sexual assault on their campuses and protections for transgender or gay students. Title IX marked its 50th anniversary Thursday.
The newly proposed rules are a reversal from former President Donald Trump-era regulations that required live hearings on sexual violence accusations and limited the types of incidents universities could respond to.
“It’s the Department of Education’s responsibility to ensure all our students can learn, grow and thrive in school,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told reporters Thursday morning while presenting the proposal. “No matter where they live, who they are, who they love, or how they identify.”
Advocates for survivors of sexual assault said the Trump-era rules prevent victims from reporting their experiences. Defenders of the rules introduced under then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos say they offered formal protections to people, often men, accused of sexual assault or harassment.
Many advocates have criticized the DeVos rules for requiring universities to hold live hearings to adjudicate incidents of sexual assault or harassment on campus. The Biden rules seek to do away with that requirement. Under the proposal, universities may still hold such hearings, but they would have to allow those involved to participate remotely.
Advocates for survivors of sexual assault praised the proposed rules for their protections for students.
“These necessary revisions will help restore the efficacy of Title IX as a crucial tool for combatting campus sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of sex-based discrimination on college campuses,” said Kenyora Parham, executive director of End Rape On Campus, to national advocacy group. “Campus sexual assault is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed swiftly and intentionally,”
The Biden administration had also previously said Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the new rules codify those protections.
The regulations would, “make clear that preventing someone from participating in school programs and activities consistent with their gender identity would cause harm in violation of Title IX, except in some limited areas set out in the statute or regulations.”
The Education Department did retain some of the DeVos-era rules, such as allowing schools to informally settle cases of sex discrimination.
And the administration didn’t address if transgender athletes could compete on the team of their choosing. Instead, the agency plans to start a separate process to decide if and how “should amend the Title IX regulations to address students’ eligibility to participate on a particular male or female athletics team.”
Some groups are already mounting their opposition to the proposed changes, including Parents Defending Education, a conservative-leaning advocacy group.
“From rolling back due process protections to stomping on the First Amendment to adding ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ into a statute that can only be so changed by Congressional action, the Biden administration has shown that they place the demands of a small group of political activists above the concerns of millions of families across the country,” said Nicole Neily, the group’s president.
Biden instructed the Education Department to review the Title IX policies last year, and had previously condemned the Trump-era rules as a “green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their rights.”
These rules aren’t final. They’ll be open to public comment before the Education Department issues its final rule. Whatever their final form, the revisions would make it the third time over the past three administrations that the federal rules around sexual misconduct on campuses will have changed.
It will likely take months for the new rules to go into effect. DeVos introduced her draft Title IX rules in 2018, but they didn’t go into effect until 2020.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism