In late September, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her intentions to roll back protections on Title IX. She has recently withdrawn Obama-era guidances, such as the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter as well as the 2014 Frequently Asked Questions document. These changes have significant implications for students’ civil rights and federal enforcement of Title IX.
Signed into law in 1972, Title IX ensures that any educational program or activity that receives federal funding cannot discriminate against students on the basis of sex. Expanded protections, such as federal guidelines, mandate institutions to respond to hostile educational environments related to sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Most recently, students attended the UC Board of Regents meeting in November to demand accountability on UC’s own policies on sexual violence, related to Regent Norman Pattiz’s position on the board. It is essential that the UC uphold and improve on Title IX policies in order to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of its students. While the creation of a UC-wide Title IX office is a shift in a promising direction, it is not enough.
The UC Office of the President is now seeking applicants to serve on a system-wide Title IX Student Advisory Board, or SAB. The board will have undergraduate and graduate representatives from each UC campus and will be able to provide the system-wide Title IX Coordinator Kathleen Salvaty with direct feedback on helping shape UC policies in prevention and response efforts.
Student advocacy and activism across the UC system has greatly contributed to survivor-led, intersectional nationwide movements to prevent incidents of sexual violence on college campuses. In May 2013, nine UC Berkeley students filed a federal Title IX complaint through the Office of Civil Rights. Within nine months, this number increased to 31 students. Four years later, the UC responded by creating several changes to university policies on sexual violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Anti-oppression work on sexual violence prevention has justly called for the inclusion of survivors of color, low-income survivors and queer and trans survivors as leaders of the movement. For instance, movements such as #MeToo benefit from the long-time labor of these communities, when, more often than not, survivors rarely receive justice. This acknowledgement is long overdue.
Students have long led efforts, and will continue to lead efforts, to protect survivors and hold universities accountable. Diverse student representation on the SAB will help improve the quality of UC decisions by contributing to the policy review process and by serving as a liaison to each campus. A seat at the table is just one of many ways students can effect change. Students as the primary stakeholders of the UC deserve a safe campus environment that affords them dignity and respect, and students will continue to advocate for equitable change within and beyond UC.
Sarah Abdeshahian is the communications director for Student Regent Paul Monge and Danielle Bermudez is a fifth-year doctoral candidate at UC Merced and a regental fellow for the UC Office of the Student Regent.