Education officials are in hot water for their approach to campus sexual misconduct

Betsy DeVos, Candice Jackson seem more sympathetic to the accused

(iStock/Lily illustration)

Original story by The Washington Post’s Katie Mettler.

In the past week, two Department of Education officials have laid out contentious approaches to handling sexual misconduct cases on college campuses.

One of the officials — Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights — has scheduled potentially pivotal meetings about adjudicating campus sexual assault under Title IX. Advocates for both victims and the accused were invited to attend these meetings.

The ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard

Title IX, part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, bars sexual discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. It mandates federally funded schools to address sexual misconduct allegations that involve students.

The meetings could be the first step toward an anticipated rollback of controversial guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2011 that sought to aid victims of sexual violence and pressure universities into more doggedly investigating accusations.

A “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education mandated that education officials use a “preponderance of evidence” standard in place of the “clear and convincing” evidence standard. The new threshold made it easier for students accused of sexual violence to be found responsible during campus adjudications and was hailed as a monumental triumph for alleged victims, who are mostly women.

Even well-respected and politically neutral legal scholars raised concerns that the 2011 guidelines unfairly tilted the scale toward the victim and created an unjust and unconstitutional adjudication process.

Now it seems the two women charged with moving that conversation forward are offering a sympathetic ear to groups that advocate for the accused.

Betsy DeVos, secretary of education

Earlier this week, DeVos, came under fire when reports said that she had invited to the listening sessions men’s rights organizations that defend accused students but that have also been characterized as misogynistic. Students who say they’ve been falsely accused of assault as well as sexual assault survivors have also been invited to the sessions.

Betsy DeVos. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

DeVos and the Trump administration plan to reshape the 2011 Obama-era directives about handling sexual assault investigations at college campuses nationwide.

DeVos’s family foundation has previously donated $25,000 to FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), a civil liberties group that often represents students accused of sexual assault and has argued that the 2011 guidelines jeopardize due process.

Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights

Jackson said in a New York Times interview, published Wednesday, that most sexual assault accusations on college campuses come after drunken hookups and bad breakups.

Candice Jackson. (AP)

“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Jackson, whose office tracks Title IX violations, told the Times.

After backlash from victims’ advocates, who said the comments perpetuated harmful stereotypes of sexual assault victims, Jackson issued an apology.

“What I said was flippant, and I am sorry,” she said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “All sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously — which has always been my position and will always be the position of this department.”

She said in the statement that she is a rape survivor and “would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience.”

Jackson has also spoken out against feminism and called the women who accused Trump of sexual violence “fake victims” who lied “for political gain.”

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