Biden Administration Releases Proposed Changes to Trump’s Anti-Survivor Title IX Rule: ‘An Important Step Towards Restoring Vital Protections for Students’

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On Oct. 6, 2021, survivor advocates delivered 55,000 signatures to the Department of Education demanding #EDActNow to rescind the Trump rules and support student survivors. (Courtesy)

Update July 20, 2022, 5:40 a.m. PST: The public can submit comments on the proposed Title IX rules here until September 12, 2022.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX on June 23, the Biden administration proposed new rules on sexual harassment and assault in education, reversing the Trump administration’s 2020 rollback of survivors’ rights. The new rules restore the Obama administration’s broad definition of sexual harassment and require schools to take prompt and effective action to end sexual harassment and assault. The proposed rules also extend discrimination protection to LGBTQ students and clarify protections for pregnant and parenting students.

“The Department of Education’s proposed regulations will return Title IX to its original purpose: holding institutions accountable for preventing sexual violence and ensuring students who are sexually assaulted can continue their education,” said Tracey Vitchers, executive director of It’s On Us, a grassroots student organizing initiative to combat campus sexual assault. “These changes are a critical step towards reversing the devastating impact of the prior administration’s Title IX changes on student survivor rights and campus safety.”

In 2021, It’s On Us joined with Know Your IX, End Rape on Campus and other survivor groups to organize the ED ACT NOW campaign, which gathered 55,000 signatures calling on the Biden-Harris administration to act quickly to reverse the harmful Trump administration rules. Earlier this month, the coalition sent a letter to President Biden urging his administration to release new rules ahead of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Members of Congress spoke out in favor of the new proposed rules. “Today’s proposed Title IX rule changes by the Biden Administration have restored the integrity of this landmark civil rights law for our students so that they can learn, grow, and thrive in educational environments free of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sex-based discrimination,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who described the rules as a “victory for students’ civil rights, decency, reason and justice.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) agreed: “This rule represents a world of change from the backwards DeVos rule, which made it easier for schools to sweep harassment and assault under the rug, and harder for survivors to come forward, seek justice, and feel safe on campus. Thanks to the Biden Administration, we are finally bringing an end to that rule—and I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Title IX’s 50th anniversary.”

The Department of Education’s proposed regulations will return Title IX to its original purpose: holding institutions accountable for preventing sexual violence and ensuring students who are sexually assaulted can continue their education.

Tracey Vitchers, executive director of It’s On Us

In March 2021, Biden signed an executive order directing the Department of Education to review the Trump/DeVos Title IX rules, adopted in May of 2020. The department sought public input through a nationwide virtual public hearing in June 2021 and numerous listening sessions and meetings students, parents, educators, state government representatives, advocates, lawyers, researchers and other stakeholders. The Education Department also reviewed federal case law and its enforcement work under Title IX.

“The proposed regulations reflect the Department’s commitment to give full effect to Title IX, ensuring that no person experiences sex discrimination in education, and that school procedures for addressing complaints of sex discrimination, including sexual violence and other forms of sex-based harassment, are clear, effective, and fair to all involved,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education.

Sexual harassment, discrimination and violence are common on college campuses and secondary schools, and notoriously underreported. Over one quarter of female undergraduates experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, yet only 12 percent of survivors report sexual assault to their schools or the police.

Currently, nearly 40 percent of survivors who report to their school are pushed out of education, often because they no longer feel safe on campus. In K-12 schools, there were 14,938 incidents of sexual violence in 2017-2018, yet only 2 percent of 14 to 18-year-old female sexual assault survivors report. Rates of sexual harassment are higher.

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Know Your IX surveyed students and published a report on the adverse impacts of sexual assault on survivors, including educational, financial, career and health impacts. The report also details forms of perpetrator backlash, including retaliatory cross-filing and defamation lawsuits. (Know Your IX)

Despite these dire statistics, the Trump administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made reporting harassment and assault more difficult by narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, requiring live hearings with direct cross-examination of survivors and other witnesses and making it harder to prove sexual assault and harassment. They also exempted most off-campus and online harassment and assault, required dismissal of cases if survivors leave school, allowed schools to ignore incidents they reasonably should have known about and blocked state efforts to address sexual harassment and assault.

“The corrosive damage wrought by the DeVos Rule was already being felt by students silenced by draconian measures that revictimized them and made schools less safe,” said Speier. “DeVos’ policies were cruelly calculated to turn Title IX on its head, pushing universities and colleges that were already on the brink amid the pandemic to develop needlessly complex and burdensome policies.”

Advocates spoke out about how the Trump/DeVos rules harmed survivors.

“We are continuing to see student survivors experience punishment, retaliation, and be pushed out of school due to the anti-survivor 2020 regulations, which give schools permission to shirk their responsibility to protect students,” said Emma Grasso Levine, manager of Know Your IX, a survivor and youth-led project of Advocates for Youth that aims to empower students to end sexual and dating violence in their schools. “It cannot be overstated how much student survivors need these Title IX rule changes to ensure fair grievance processes, and guarantee that survivors’ education is not further interrupted by the impacts of sexual violence.”

The Biden administration’s proposed rules would provide much needed changes for student survivors, including requiring schools to respond to all complaints of gender violence regardless of where the violence occurs. Whereas the Trump rules had narrowed the definition of sexual harassment to behavior that “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access” to an education program or activity, the new rules broaden the definition to cover any harassment that is “sufficiently severe or pervasive.”

“Student survivors have been organizing to shift the narrative around Title IX and ensure no student is denied their right to an education free from violence. These changes are urgently needed and mark an important step towards restoring vital protections for students,” said Dharma Koffer, Know Your IX policy organizer.

Whereas the Trump/DeVos rules were written with the help of men’s rights activists who sought to make it harder for schools to hold abusers accountable, student survivors were integrally involved in drafting the new regulations, meeting with staff in the Department of Education and providing testimony.

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Between May 1-18, End Rape on Campus tracked 291 protests, rallies, vigils and other public gatherings related to sexual violence in schools in 169 different cities and towns across the U.S. with more than 20,000 participants.

“We are glad to see that so many of the changes that student survivors, organizers, and survivor advocates have pushed for are included in the proposed regulations,” said Grasso Levine. “We will continue to uplift student survivors’ experiences and advocate for regulations that meet student survivors’ needs as the Biden administration finalizes their Title IX rule.”

Once the proposed rules are published in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to review the rules and submit comments to the Department of Education for changes or improvements to the proposed rules. Know Your IX plans to hold listening sessions with students to ensure that their experiences and needs are centered during the notice and comment process. Following these listening sessions, Know Your IX will draft a collective comment that will be signed by student survivors and submitted to the Department of Education.

“These necessary revisions will help restore the efficacy of Title IX as a crucial tool for combatting campus sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of sex-based discrimination on college campuses. Campus sexual assault is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed swiftly and intentionally,” said Kenyora Parham, executive director of End Rape On Campus.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, it is vital that Title IX live up to its promise,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Louise Melling. “No student, whether in grade school, high school, or university, should be denied or limited educational opportunities because of sex. And no student should be denied fair procedures when complaints arise. The government can and must further both ends.”

The Department of Education has a fact sheet on the proposed rules and an easy-to-read chart comparing the Trump rules to the proposed rules. It’s On Us and End Rape on Campus has a petition in support of the proposed rules to be delivered to the Department of Education.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About and

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.
Hannah Phelps is an editorial intern at Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College. She is majoring in government and the study of women and gender. Her interests include educational equity, international law and transnational feminism.