With the election of former Vice President Joe Biden to the presidency, regulations created under current education secretary Betsy DeVos are likely to undergo sweeping changes. Biden will likely look toward broadening the scope of current Title IX regulations, increasing protections for survivors of sexual violence.
While campus survivor advocates were optimistic that the Biden administration would work to strengthen Title IX protections, many cautioned that it could take years for the Biden administration to roll back DeVos’ regulations. Hoover Institution senior education fellow Rick Hanushek said the legal process in this area is not “clear cut,” and said it would be hard to change the regulations.
Under the Trump administration, the Department of Education has worked to restrict the scope of Title IX regulations. On May 3, DeVos released regulations that limited the range of sexual-violence cases universities could investigate under Title IX, narrowing the definition of sexual harassment and increasing liability for universities, which went into effect in August. These regulations were designed to roll back guidelines detailed in the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, which gave universities a broad mandate to investigate sexual-violence cases.
DeVos’ regulations permitted universities to create ancillary policies stronger than current federal regulations, which Stanford did through releasing the SHARE Hearing and Investigation procedures in October. However, survivor advocates have contended that the SHARE procedures are nonetheless too limited in scope.
The new Biden administration plans to expand Title IX include implementing online, anonymous sexual harassment reporting systems and university administrators and staff trainings on interacting with survivors. Biden’s policy platform condemns the DeVos regulations, describing them as an attempt to “shame and silence survivors.”
According to his platform, Biden will aim to expand education on sexual violence and harassment on college campuses, broaden the reporting rights of survivors, increase the mandate of Title IX regulations and impose higher fines on universities that violate the Clery Act by failing to provide accurate data on campus safety. He will also expand the protections of the Violence Against Women Act, increase the Department of Education’s oversight capabilities and provide more preventative services to K-12 public schools.
Law professor and survivor advocate Michele Dauber said Biden has a strong track record on addressing domestic and intimate partner violence through policy.
“I expect to see the Biden Department of Education rolling back many of the most egregious parts of the DeVos regulations,” Dauber said. “I expect to see him strengthening the Clery Act. I expect to see him reinstating the guidance and rules on transgender students. I expect it to be like night and day.”
Advocates for survivors have cautioned, however, that it may not be easy for the Biden administration to reverse the DeVos regulations. Unlike the “Dear Colleague” letter, which was simply a guiding measure, the DeVos Title IX regulations are binding legal authority, according to Maia Brockbank ’21, who co-directs sexual violence prevention and Title IX for the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU).
To roll back the DeVos regulations, “it will be a process that will take a few years,” Brockbank said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to be stuck with these for a while, and it’s going to take a lot of proactive action from the Biden administration to work around them.” Brockbank added that if Democrats retake the Senate, reversing the DeVos Title IX regulations through the legislative process will become much easier.
Betsy Kim ’22, an ASSU executive fellow for sexual violence prevention and Title IX who has previously written for The Daily, urged Stanford advocates to continue to speak out for the rights of survivors.
“Even though it is an administration that we feel will be friendlier to survivors, it’s really important that we as students voice our concerns and our priorities,” she said.
Contact Kathryn Zheng at kszheng ‘at’ stanford.edu and Victoria Hsieh at vhsieh02 ‘at’ stanford.edu.