U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has never been an ally to survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct or rape. But seldom have Department of Education policies been so cruel. At universities across the country, the epidemic of campus sexual violence appears as grave as ever — and DeVos’ recent changes to Title IX, which took effect Aug. 14, will only make matters worse.
The updated guidelines have narrowed the scope and drastically raised the bar, effectively preventing any accountability for sexual misconduct occurring anywhere off campus, where 73% of UC Berkeley students live. The changes also redefine harassment, requiring that it be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access.”
The updated Title IX text not only eviscerates protections for survivors, but it also institutes processes that would trigger victims of sexual violence, involving live hearings with examination by lawyers. In sum, the policies offer possible accountability only for the most grievously affected victims whose experiences occurred on campus and who wish to be retraumatized in a lackluster process. Title IX has thus become more a shield for perpetrators than a tool of justice for survivors.
UC Berkeley states that it has “emphatically chosen” not to lessen its commitment to addressing sexual misconduct, yet its existing protocols range from uninspiring to dismal, repeatedly letting powerful figures on campus off the hook. To inspire greater confidence in its commitments, UC Berkeley should join the pending lawsuits aiming to overturn the regressive new Title IX rules, fighting them in court and refusing to implement them. At present, the campus scarcely deserves additional credit for not further dropping the ball.
Given UC Berkeley’s perpetual failures to support survivors, the danger doesn’t end with Title IX: In light of budget shortfalls related to COVID-19, the campus has slashed a third of the PATH to Care Center’s funding, cutting the Peer Educator program for the coming year.
Instead of curtailing its resources for those facing sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH, UC Berkeley should treat the current public health crisis as a chance to strengthen all its SVSH policies. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has reported increased contact volume, with many survivors citing COVID-19 as a factor in their experiences. Whether on campus or off, students should know they can hold perpetrators accountable.
Far from deciding the PATH to Care budget is discretionary, UC Berkeley should see its services as vital, fully funding the center even amid budget cuts. Similarly, students should not only be spared the trauma of courtroom-style cross-examination, they also deserve a timelier process with real consequences for perpetrators.
Above all, the process of accountability should not force survivors to walk through hell — as survivors, they already have.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the summer 2020 opinion editor, Aidan Bassett.