President Joe Biden called for an examination of collegiate due process protections enacted under former President Donald Trump’s administration in a Monday executive order.
The president announced his “Executive Order on Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation” on International Women’s Day, calling on the Education Department to evaluate a Title IX regulation issued under the Trump administration that encouraged due process for those accused of campus sexual misconduct.
Biden also ordered the Education Secretary to rescind any actions inconsistent with the Biden administration’s stance that “all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In November 2018, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed new rules providing “basic due process protections for students” accused of campus sexual harassment or assault, emphasizing the “presumption of innocence.”
The rules went into effect in May 2020.
Our new #TitleIX reg codifies into law sexual harassment as the discrimination it is. Before now, it was only addressed through Dear Colleague letters. We owe students more than letters and good intentions. We owe them accountability through the law. pic.twitter.com/SHFg36K24E
— Secretary Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) May 7, 2020
DeVos’s announcement came shortly after the chaotic September 2018 confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, during which multiple women accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting them. Advocacy groups and many Democratic lawmakers focused on the phrases “believe all women” and “believe survivors” as Republicans condemned presumptions of Kavanaugh’s guilt.
The Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately found “no evidence” to corroborate claims against Kavanaugh.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration had broadly defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” according to CNN. DeVos’s proposal narrowed the definition to mean “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”
The Trump administration must hold schools accountable for failing to address sexual harassment and assault.
We said we’d see Betsy DeVos in court, and we meant it. https://t.co/m7BeGDHwxx
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 15, 2020
“Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” DeVos said in a statement in 2018.
“We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process,” she continued. “Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.”