Last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos signaled that she’d like to overhaul the Obama-era enforcement mandates of Title IX “quickly,” and remarked in a stakeholders meeting that she’d also like to help victims of assault and those who have been falsely accused of rape. This rhetoric came on the heels of her meeting just a few days prior with members of a men’s rights group who don’t think men accused of sexual assault are treated delicately enough by the justice system.
In response to DeVos’s pledge of swift, if ill-defined, action, 20 Democratic attorneys general sent a letter on Wednesday to the Education Secretary imploring her to work with them and not dismantle Title IX protections as they pertain to school responses to reports of sexual assault, BuzzFeed News reported.
In the letter, the attorneys general attempt to sway DeVos to uphold these protections by appealing to common sense, logic, and decency—brain functions which we know are held in low esteem by the Trump administration but are an important addendum to the public record nonetheless. The letter, for instance, references an American Association of Universities study from 2015 that found 23 percent of female undergraduate have experienced sexual assault or misconduct, and a Department of Justice study that shows 20 percent of female undergraduate reporting having experienced sexual assault. The letter submits that, “the vast majority of these incidents go unreported.”
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, one of the letter’s co-authors, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that DeVos has taken a “reckless approach to government,” and that her plans to change Title IX enforcement are, “consistent with the new Trump policies where they are really leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves, and that’s simply un-American.”
The letter is, on the whole, more peaceably worded, asking kindly, at times, for DeVos’s cooperation as a bipartisan ally of vulnerable, suffering students:
“Despite our concerns, we are committed to working collaboratively with your Department to address the problem of sexual assault on America’s college campuses. Bt 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, including sexual harassment, assault, stalking and domestic violence, under Title IX. To that end we urge you to directly engage with a broad, representative, and a bipartisan group of Attorneys General from around the country, so we can take action together to end the scourge of sexual violence on our college and university campuses. Furthermore, we urge you to continue to implement and uphold these important civil rights protection so that all students are able to learn in a safe environment free from violence and discrimination.”
DeVos’s problem, of course, isn’t that she’s failed to seek diverse enough counsel, and I’m pretty sure these AGs know that, nor are they banking on it. I’m glad people are still sending letters; I’m glad people are still trying. Now, at least, we continue to have a record of all the sound advice DeVos is empowered to ignore.