By Seanne Coates
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Students at some Baltimore area universities are questioning whether U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is on the right track as she proposes changes to campus sexual assault rules that may lean too heavily in favor of those accused of rape and other forms of sexual misconduct.
DeVos, President Donald Trump’s controversial top educational leader, has recently made it clear that she thinks the Obama administration failed in its handling of sexual assault cases under Title IX, a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial aid.
DeVos has proposed to rewrite rules that opponents say will benefit the accused in sexual assault cases on campus.
“I think [Title IX revisions] will hinder our students,” said Markya Reed, the vice president of the Student Government Association at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “The process is difficult enough, for survivors to feel – good enough to report [on sexual assault].”
Jasmynn Clark, a senior at Towson University, agreed.
“From what I understand – I feel like she’s taking it [Title IX] … away from helping the victims/survivors and more so just trying to give more power to the people doing the sexual assault, which I think is the opposite of what needs to be done,” Clark said.
Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the specifics of the changes DeVos wants to make should come within days, but he added that final action on Title IX will come later.
“[Title IX revision] has been an ongoing process, so I would say before the end of the year,” he said.
DeVos said in a recent speech at George Mason University that the Obama administration had failed to protect all students with the Title IX program. She said her goal is to encourage due process for all students on campuses.
The uncertainty of when – or if – the changes will be made has not stopped opponents from protesting.
Dozens of University of Baltimore students took to the streets earlier this month when they learned that the Education secretary had been invited to give the fall 2017 commencement speech in December. The students staged walk-outs in classrooms and still are circulating petitions to force University President Kurt Schmoke to rescind the invitation to DeVos.
Meanwhile, many Baltimore schools sponsor activities that increase awareness of sexual abuse, and encourage students to speak out after attacks. A popular event, not only in the Baltimore area but nationwide, is “Take Back the Night,” which is an opportunity for those affected by sexual violence to speak freely and without judgment about their experiences, to give support, and to talk about what can be done to get rid of sexual assault on campuses.
Another part of this event involves a clothesline where students and faculty are given the opportunity to write their stories involving sexual assault on T-shirts, which are hung up on a public clothesline on campus.
“We will adhere to any structural implementations that are put in place for Title IX,” Reed said. “But if the need arises the SGA will come up with new ways to help out survivors on the ground.”
“Towson University is committed to preventing sexual assault and sexual misconduct and to supporting survivors of sexual assault,” said TU President Kim Schatzel in a campus letter to students two days after the University of Baltimore protest march.