Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has refrained from saying whether her department will continue or reject the Obama administration’s controversial approach to cracking down on campus sexual violence. Now, as she mulls that question, she is set to meet Thursday with advocates on all sides of the issue — college administrators, rape survivors, and students accused of assault.
Assault victims and their allies worry that the meetings are pro forma, a mere exercise in advance of an announcement that the Trump administration plans to reverse course on federal guidance that played a key role in forcing colleges to do more to protect survivors of sexual violence. Advocates for the accused, meanwhile, see an opening to do away with an approach that they argue has led colleges to conduct biased investigations that label innocent students as rapists.
‘‘We’re not interested in getting rid of civil rights,’’ said Cynthia Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, a group founded by three mothers who said their sons were falsely accused of sexual misconduct on campus. ‘‘What we do oppose,’’ she said, is the Education Department’s ‘‘coercive and punitive attitude toward schools, because we believe it drove schools to decide that it was easier to find a student guilty and there would be fewer repercussions than finding a student not responsible.’’
Assault survivors and advocates are planning to rally outside the Education Department on Thursday morning in advance of the meetings, calling on DeVos to stay the course on an approach they say has pushed colleges to take assault allegations seriously and encouraged victims to come forward. They also urge her to hold more than one meeting with survivors before deciding.
At issue is guidance the Education Department issued in 2011 to outline how K-12 schools and colleges must handle sexual assault allegations. Republicans assailed the guidance as an executive overreach , while Obama administration officials defended it as a clarification of schools’ existing obligations under federal law.