On Monday, June 7, 2021, The Department of Education began five days of public hearings, receiving comments from individuals and organizations on how it can improve Title IX enforcement. This comes following a directive from President Biden ordering the Department of Education to reexamine a controversial Title IX Rule issued under the Trump administration. Interfaith Alliance submitted written comments, calling on the Biden administration to restore longstanding protections and expand Title IX to better protect women and LGTBTQ+ students.
Title IX Under President Trump
New Barriers for Sexual Assault Survivors
Since 1972, Title IX has been central to creating safer, more equitable environments for women and LGBTQ+ students by ensuring schools are more proactive in combating sexual harassment and sex discrimination. But just when public attention was focused on the need to do more to protect students, a Final Rule issued by Secretary Betsy DeVos on May 6, 2020, allowed schools to do less.
The “DeVos Rule” on Title IX requirements that protect survivors of sexual harassment and violence. By making them meet more specific reporting requirements, meet uniquely high standards of evidence, and go through lengthy and difficult processes to seek justice. These changes fly in the face of Title IX by exacerbating existing barriers to education for survivors of sexual harassment and violence, which most critically impacts women, students of color, and LGBTQ+ students.
A License to Discriminate for Religious Schools
Notably, the DeVos Rule also permits eligious schools to opt out of sex discrimination prohibitions without notice. This means that students may enroll in and attend a university without knowing if they will be treated differently because of their sexuality, gender identity, reproductive healthcare choices, or personal beliefs.
As a matter of religious freedom, religiously affiliated universities are able to operate in a manner consistent with their religious doctrine. But students should be afforded the same ability to make education decisions based on their own personal beliefs. Transparency and consistent application are necessary in protecting both educational institutions and the students they serve.
A More Inclusive Vision of Title IX
In reviewing this rule, the Biden administration has the opportunity to restore Title IX as a tool to ensure educational equality. Interfaith Alliance has urged the Biden administration to restore Title IX protections for student survivors of sexual harassment and violence, expand protections for LGBTQ+ students, and ensure that religious exemptions to Title IX are appropriately implemented.
Students seeking higher education are often away from home for the first time. They are encountering new people, having new experiences, and discovering their own identity. Schools should nurture students throughout this process and ensure that community members of all beliefs, experiences, and identities can thrive. Interfaith Alliance urges the Department of Education to protect the right of all students to have equal access to education by strengthening Title IX protections. In doing so, the Biden administration can restore Title IX as a powerful tool to ensure all students are treated with dignity and respect.