In a collective effort co-led by Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) president Shanta Katipamula ’19, student government leaders at 76 colleges have signed a letter opposing U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposed overhaul of federal guidelines for campus sexual assault cases.
The letter, submitted Wednesday as the public comment period for DeVos’ proposals ends, highlights 10 “problematic” aspects of the Education Department’s planned changes to Title IX rules, from giving parties’ representatives the ability to cross-examine students live during hearings to a suggested narrowing of the kinds of incidents schools are responsible for investigating.
Student leaders are not the only ones to weigh in on the future of Title IX. In two months, the Department of Education has received a deluge of some 100,000 comments. Some laud DeVos’s changes as strengthening due process protections for the accused; others decry them as weakening schools’ ability to punish sexual assault and support victims.
Katipamula said she began thinking about assembling a joint comment back in November when the Department of Education released its intended revisions.
“From conversations with people, we all have the same concerns, and I thought it would be really powerful to have a unified student voice,” Katipamula told The Daily.
She began by reaching out to a few acquaintances and student body leaders at other schools. She quickly got interest from around 50 people. But the timing of the public comment period was less than ideal for students, Katipamula said: Thanksgiving, final exams and winter break all intervened, making it harder to organize.
“Once I got back from [winter] break, we were really kind of on this race against the clock,” she said.
Katipamula began drafting a letter with Simran Mishra, the student body president at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and another key organizer of the effort. Katipamula had already met Mishra, who worked at the company Katipamula will be interning at this summer.
They circulated the letter among those who had expressed interest earlier and in a daily newsletter for student government leaders. While Katipamula wishes she’d had more time to gather support from students at different schools, she was happy to see the initial list of 50 or so interested students grow to more than 70. Signatures continued coming in through the night before the Jan. 30 deadline.
Student representatives at Stanford have been vocal critics of the Education Department’s plan since it was announced. Earlier in January, both the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council approved a bill to send DeVos feedback, arguing her changes would deter victims from reporting assaults to their schools.
The ASSU has also focused on helping other Stanford students submit their thoughts to DeVos, holding workshops on how to give public comment and circulating letters designed to let community members sign on and express opposition with minimal effort.
Many college administrators have also spoken against the changes DeVos seeks. While Stanford has not issued its own statement on the proposed policy changes, it provided joint comment as one of 60 members of the Association of American Universities (AAU). The AAU’s letter to DeVos cautions against a “one-size-fits-all” approach to campus policies and a shift toward “quasi-courts … inconsistent with [schools’] educational missions,” among many concerns.
The proposals would likely force Stanford to revise key parts of its Title IX practices, according to a big-picture University analysis requested by Katipamula and Ph.D. candidate Rosie Nelson, the ASSU vice president.
The analysis by Stanford’s Office of Institutional Equity and Access outlined potential changes in hearing procedures and interim measures for complainants as well as the scope of cases Stanford could adjudicate. However, it also described unknown impacts from certain shifts in federal rules.
“Amidst powerful movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, the proposed Title IX regulations will take our nation and our institutions a step back,” the statement from student leaders says.
Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.