While I’m not a fan of most of Betsy DeVos’s reforms, when it comes to Title IX, I’m in full support.
The proposed rules do help the accused by restoring their fundamental right to cross-examine their accuser. For students facing expulsion and being branded as sexual predators, this is no small thing.
But victims would also be empowered. They'd be able to opt to participate in a facilitated conversation in which the harm is identified and responsibility taken.
“I just wanted him to hear me,” explained one woman who participated in such a conference.
“I realized that saying sorry wasn’t enough,” said one repentant man.
The old guidelines prohibit this option.
And there's another benefit for victims. Right now, the very people who might provide much-needed counsel are deputized as mandatory reporters. Should faculty overhear anything suspicious at the salad bar or in a personal essay on dorm life or wherever, we're required to report it immediately to the Title IX office.
If the student says she doesn't want to report, we are to override her resistance.
Any ambivalence on her part, we're told at annual trainings, is a symptom of trauma. Under no circumstances are we to talk with a student about the incident, as we might re-traumatize her.
The proposed rules give colleges the chance to retire the undercover army of sex police. Teachers can once again assume the essential role of mentor, exploring options rather than betraying a student’s confidence.
For victims, these changes are enormous. Instead of being treated as if they're too traumatized to act on their own behalf, they’re given the opportunity to think and make decisions for themselves.
Our nation's undergraduates need us to believe in their capacity to grow and change. Our society needs adults who've been given the support to learn from their mistakes, and to tell others clearly when boundaries have been crossed.
And we all need more opportunities for honest conversations about the pitfalls of passion.
The DeVos guidelines help us to get there.
Meg Mott has studied Title IX, and teaches politics at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont.