Betsy DeVos, United States secretary of education, announced plans on Sept. 7 to ratify the Title IX legislation regarding sexual assault. However, official changes to legislation have not been made yet. The announcement had little to no effect on Kansas State policy.
Current Title IX legislation asserts that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
In her speech, Betsy DeVos stressed her plan to redefine what sexual harassment and assault mean in order to provide protection to those who have been accused of assault.
“Too often, they wrote, ‘Outrage at heinous crimes becomes a justification for shortcuts’ in processes,” DeVos said. “Ultimately, they concluded, ‘There is nothing inconsistent with a policy that both strongly condemns and punishes sexual misconduct and ensures a fair adjudicatory process.'”
Abbie Barnes, junior in Spanish and resident assistant at Marlatt Hall, said she is concerned about how this change may affect students on campus.
“If DeVos’ plan does end up creating a ‘safe space’ for the accused … it does worry me that I could have residents that are fearful or scared of this other resident,” Barnes said. “If I were to have a resident … that was assaulted, I [would] want them to feel safe and not feel … that the incident may happen again.”
Angela Hubler, associate professor of gender, women and sexuality studies, said she believes that the problem is not in the legislation itself, but the lack of enforcement on campuses across the country.
“Title IX … is critically important to making schools safe for all students,” Hubler said. “Courts have understood sexual harassment and sexual violence to be sex-based discrimination. … It’s vital that institutions like the Department of Education and K-State make it clear that gender-based violence won’t be tolerated by supporting survivors and sanctioning perpetrators.”
K-State remains in litigation with a Title IX lawsuit filed by former students Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer following their alleged sexual assaults by Jared R. Gihring, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison in August.
According to a statement on the Kansas State News website, the plaintiffs claimed that “K-State ignored prior reports of sexual assault and crime statistics purportedly showing an increased rate of sexual violence at fraternities, and that K-State failed to respond appropriately to the plaintiffs’ own personal reports of sexual assault.”
Barnes feels that, while the university does a “great job” training faculty for situations involving sexual assault, there is room for improvement when dealing with the investigation of assault.
“K-State definitely does not handle these situations well,” Barnes said. “In the past, it felt very shoved under the rug and pushed onto other people. … K-State does need to focus more on protection and handling these cases more efficiently. They have a responsibility to their students to care.”
Clara Valadares Kientz, assistant director for the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education, said the organization will remain unaffected by DeVos’ announcements.
“The CARE office will continue to stand in solidarity with survivors who have experienced sexual and intimate partner violence,” Kientz said, “regardless of the potential changes related to Title IX.”
Following the release of DeVos’ statements regarding Title IX and the changes in the future, K-State’s Division of Communications and Marketing published a response in the Sept. 8 edition of K-State Today.
“Kansas State University respects the rights and safety of all its students and employees and provides a fair process to all in its anti-discrimination policy,” the statement reads. “K-State will continue to provide resources and support to its students, as it always has, as part of its commitment to the K-State family.”
The university declined to provide any further comment on the issue of the Title IX changes proposed by DeVos or the progression on the lawsuit, but responded with a brief statement via email that read:
“The scope of our policy — which was validated by the court’s rulings concerning Title IX — has not changed and remains in compliance with the law.”