Following Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ speech on Sept. 7, in which she discussed plans to remove or alter portions of Title IX guidelines, the college’s administration vowed to continue in their efforts to prevent and manage sexual misconduct cases.
DeVos’ announcement targeted a Title IX guidance letter for colleges issued by the Obama administration, which created a new set of regulations for managing sexual misconduct cases on campuses across the U.S. Title IX protects individuals from sex-based discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity. DeVos emphasized her concern that these guidelines went too far, leading to the possible mistreatment of those students accused of sexual assault.
“There is no way to avoid the devastating reality of campus sexual misconduct: lives have been lost,” DeVos said in her speech. “Lives of victims, and lives of the accused.”
President Biddy Martin responded to DeVos’ announcement in a statement released Sept. 8, assuring members of the Amherst community that both Title IX and the college’s policies regarding sexual misconduct remain in effect.
“It is important for you to know that Amherst will not pull back from our commitment to preventing sexual misconduct, to redressing the harm that it causes and to following processes that offer necessary safeguards both to those who are accused and those who bring complaints,” Martin said in her statement.
She also noted that the college’s current policies exceeded the Title IX policy and guidance established under the Obama administration.
In the aftermath of DeVos’ announcement, student groups on campus have begun to discuss the repercussions of possible changes to Title IX guidelines. Various organizations on campus, both college- and student-led, address issues of sexual respect and consent, including the Student Health Educators, the Women’s and Gender Center and Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect.
The Peer Advocates, who work for Amherst’s Health Education Office, have been especially mindful of potential shifts in Title IX legislation. In an online interview, Peer Advocate (PA) Catherine Lindsay ’19 said their work concentrated primarily on preventing sexual assault through student workshops and other programming. PAs are also trained in “respond[ing] to individuals who have come to us to talk about their sexual assault,” Lindsay added.
“We’ve discussed DeVos’ announcement at length,” Lindsay said. “At this point, nothing she’s announced will affect either how the PAs operate or how Amherst College’s Title IX operates.”
If, however, DeVos “further rolls back protections guaranteed under Title IX or heightens the burden of proof on victims,” the PAs would provide opportunities for students on campus to contact their political representatives to dissuade them from pursuing these policies, Lindsay said.
Lindsay described the PAs as a resource for students in need — whether they require transportation to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital after an incident of sexual assault, help understanding the disciplinary process for misconduct cases or simply a safe space to confidentially speak their concerns. “I want Amherst College students to know that PAs are genuinely, 100 percent here for you,” wrote Lindsay.
In the days following DeVos’ announcement, the college’s Title IX office has also been working to address possible changes to Obama-era policies. In an email interview, Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl said that the college’s “fundamental legal obligations under Title IX [would] remain unchanged” even if the Department of Education revokes the guidance letter issued by the previous administration. Frankl noted that the direct effect of a repeal of Obama-era guidance on the college’s policies is currently unknown.
Regardless of changes to Title IX policies, however, Frankl said the college will persist in its commitment to community and individual safety, education and prevention efforts against sexual misconduct and equitable and fair treatment of students involved in Title IX procedures.
Frankl encouraged members of the Amherst community to contact the Title IX office with any concerns or questions regarding the Department of Education’s announcement.
“[Our office’s] day-to-day work of supporting students, staff and faculty around gender-based concerns, responding to reports of sexual misconduct and working to keep the community safe has not and will not change,” she said.
Correction: an earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that the Peer Advocates work for Amherst’s Title IX office. The Peer Advocates work for the Health Education Office. The current version has corrected the statement. This article was updated on Sept. 21, 2017 at 4:10 p.m.