For many years, sexual assault has been a hot-button issue on college campuses. In 2011, the Obama administration sent out a letter to all colleges laying out new guidelines to more easily achieve justice for victims of sexual assault. However, many on the right have been critical of the Obama-era policy, saying it denied the accused due process of law. In response to this criticism, last week President Donald Trump’s controversial Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a troubling shift in policy that would supposedly make the rights of the accused and the accusers more balanced. Yet her speech gave no specific details or guidance, raising many concerns.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Thus, the issue affects millions of Americans, and it should not be taken lightly. The Obama administration recognized this and made it a top priority. In fact, it was one of former vice president Joe Biden’s main focuses. An issue that was ignored for years was brought into the spotlight, in part thanks to the previous administration. This ultimately led thousands of victims to come forward and tell their stories. However, Trump’s administration seems to want the country to regress decades.
In her speech, DeVos stated that the Obama administration has “failed too many students.” Throughout the speech, DeVos attempted to follow the usual strategy of the Trump administration’s vague criticism of Obama-era policies without offering a practical solution. In the speech, she criticized the current policy, saying the process “lacked the sophistication required for such sensitive matters,” without suggesting how she would change the issue. And while this speech has received immense attention, the Department of Education has not yet released any formal rule changes or guidelines. Instead, they have merely sent the message that they are restoring the rights of the accused. Of course, there are instances in which people have been wrongly accused of sexual assault. However, simply alluding to the idea that the entire process with which thousands of colleges deal with sexual assault should be changed without any concrete plan does not help any falsely accused students. Instead, it simply sends a message to victims that the government is more focused on a few falsely accused students than the thousands of sexual assault survivors.
In light of DeVos’ heavy-handed speech, an announcement from NYU regarding its sexual misconduct policy would be helpful. In the past, NYU has firmly asserted its stance against sexual misconduct and its Title IX compliance. Since the current administration has left colleges in limbo, it is up to NYU to reaffirm that its policy will not change.
A version of this appeared in the Monday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]