Well, the current administration has one thing that’s convenient for me: there always seems like new things to talk about. And by talk about, I mean critique.
The latest news coming from the White House is specifically involving the Department of Education, where Betsy DeVos has announced her intentions to rescind current Title IX guidelines.
So what does this mean, especially for college students? Most of us are lucky enough to only know the name “Title IX” from the required online courses every semester. Or going to a freshman orientation and watching the same viral video comparing sexual assault to drinking tea. If it were me, the only thing I would change about our current system to make the online training much more inclusive, but that’s beside the point.
Title IX is the key to identifying and condemning sexual harassment and assault. It is a broad tool enforcing equality not only for male and female athletes, but also for all students, including transgender and parenting students. Rather than allowing crimes to occur without a true means of legal consequence, now the process for reporting sexual assault is much more transparent.
But based on DeVos’s views, these rights are not a priority. Their funding is not necessary, translating to say that students’ safety and well-being is not necessary. If we want to get down to the simplest of terms, let’s look back at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our human need for growth and knowledge, or self-actualization, is the very point of the pyramid. We psychologically are not prepared to meet that need if our more basic ones are not met, and one of the most important of those is safety and security. If we cannot walk across campus and attend classes without always feeling on-edge, we really shouldn’t even be pursuing an education, not without somebody taking action.
While DeVos’s decision would not immediately go into effect for every public university in the country, the mentality she presents will inevitably trickle down to individual communities and university administrations. If the head of our nation’s education doesn’t find Title IX important, then why should we?
We would be putting our students’ health at risk. Sexual assault is much more than a drunken encounter, a scenario we can just push under a rug and pretend that it isn’t there. The short- and long-term effects of sexual assault can harm a victim’s mind and body. Besides the risk of potentially contracting STDs or becoming pregnant, the mental health concerns can endure for even longer. Post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety are all very common in survivors. They might even resort to coping mechanisms like substance abuse and self-harm to release their negative emotions.
I hesitate using the word “victim” in this scenario because as someone who has luckily never experienced this trauma, I think the strength and resilience required to keep moving forward past the experience and reporting the crime speaks volumes. If student rights are cut back, what justice are we serving these individuals? The progress that we’ve made to bring greater awareness to this growing issue is at stake. We cannot afford to move backwards.
The Department of Justice reports a quarter of undergraduate females will face some fork of sexual assault. The ACLU says only five percent of campus rape cases are actually reported. Many programs and assumptions we make about sexual assault is female-oriented, which makes sense with the overwhelming majority of statistics, but we leave men and transgender people out of the loop. These demographics probably face the most pressure to remain silent due to the stigma surrounding such reports. They fear not having others believe them when we assume men are known to be more dominated, more sexual.
My focus thus far has been on college campuses just because it’s such a frequent concern, but Title IX affects all levels of education. From elementary school to post-graduate programs, we have the right to call out any sex-based discrimination. Every school must have a Title IX policy and coordinator on staff to ensure this right. We must informed of our right and receive information as to how to handle and report sex discrimination. We deserve to know that information and to have it easily accessible. Especially for someone overwhelmed and distraught over a traumatic experience, chances are if they don’t know what to do from there, how often do you think they’ll hunt it out?
Sure, the actual number of instances of campus sexual assault have dropped over recent years, but that doesn’t mean that we understand it any better, or that our work is done. I see the progress as encouragement to keep doing what we’re doing. Education doesn’t occur in a bubble or vacuum, but in an environment we as citizens must make safe for all. To think of creating more ignorance surrounding sex discrimination, especially in the world of academia…it is simply contradictory.
We cannot stay silent. We must speak up for ourselves and everyone, letting our government and schools know what we the people want and need. A pursuit of happiness and knowledge is not possible without basic security.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie