For survivors of sexual misconduct, 2017 was a breakthrough year. The #MeToo movement shone light on years of assault and harassment and gave confidence to survivors. Their bravery inspired the world and brought previously “untouchable” industry magnates to justice.
Yet, on the eve of the 48th anniversary of Title IX — the federal law that protects women against sex discrimination and sexual misconduct — Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled her plan to redefine sexual misconduct with a “narrower definition” for sexual harassment, while amplifying the voices of the accused. In recent years, the current system made strides towards taking survivors seriously. Now, the Trump administration has cast them out at sea.
Survivors and non-survivors alike should be afraid of these changes. The statistics for sexual assault are alarming: One in five women are sexually assaulted during their time in college. DeVos claims the new policy will “restore balance,” because she believes the process tends to favor the accused. But the new guidelines will only complicate the requirements colleges must meet and intimidate survivors from coming forward.
Princeton Students for Title IX Reform (PIXR) — the group that led a 200-hour protest outside Nassau Hall last year — composed a petition to the University in response to DeVos’ changes. They asked Nassau Hall to increase accountability for interpersonal violence and promise to go to the nines when protecting survivors of any sexual misconduct.
Under the new Title IX guidelines, the University will cease to have “jurisdiction over sexual assault at the eating clubs, study abroads, or harassment that is not deemed ‘severe and pervasive.’” PIXR wants to ensure that survivors have the means to protect themselves, whether through intersectional counselors, financial support for off-campus therapy, or legal representation. The group has asked the University to read and respond to their petition by July 22, arguing that with all the reforms that the University is considering, the looming issues with Title IX’s updates should make the list.
Policies against sexual misconduct now protect students against assault, harassment, stalking, and dating violence. Yet, while the University has a strict policy against any form of sexual misconduct, there are numerous assault testimonies that say otherwise. Many survivors have faced traumatic challenges when reporting sexual harassment in accordance with Title IX and the University’s requirements. They report feeling defenseless.
That doesn’t have to be the case anymore. If the University can differentiate our community’s high standards from DeVos’ plan, students may come forward and be protected under Title IX. Supporting PIXR’s petition will allow the University to uphold its promise to protect and support all students, especially when confronting misconduct that defies our school’s values.
By guaranteeing more mental health resources, PIXR’s demands will create positive change for current survivors. They will increase safety in our community, preventing traumatic crimes in the future.
The University claims to protect students; it has done so, for example, with its recent brief in the lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or when President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 condemned Professor Joshua Katz’ offensive rhetoric about the Black Justice League. PIXR’s proposed policies — tailored to our Princeton community — should be no exception.
DeVos’ plan will be detrimental to many college campuses, but Princeton should not be one of them. If the University is committed to protecting our community, making sure that Princeton’s Title IX system keeps survivors’ best interests at heart is necessary. Implementing PIXR’s policies is a small step now, but doing so could influence how universities respond to laws that are detrimental to their students.
Maisie McPherson is a rising sophomore from Dana Point, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.