By now we have all read many accounts of sexual assault and the misuse of power by politicians, professional athletes and other celebrities. The stories brought forth by prominent men and women in entertainment and the media are not the only ones, of course. Sexual harassment and assault must also be addressed in places of learning.
Unfortunately, sexual assault is pervasive on college campuses across the country. As many as one in every five women experiences some form of sexual assault as a college undergraduate. Of all students, more than 11 percent experience sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Sexual misconduct creates an environment so hostile that it puts a survivor’s access to education in peril — a violation of their civil rights.
Sexual harassment remains a major issue of education equity on campuses across the country.
And yet the federal government recently announced a paradoxical move to weaken administrative guidelines for the enforcement of Title IX, the landmark law banning sexual discrimination in education and providing protections for survivors. Since 1972, that law has protected individuals from being discriminated against, denied benefits of or excluded from participation in education programs and activities based on sex. Under Title IX, American schools must ensure that sexual assault survivors are provided with an educational environment where they are safe and able to learn. The federal law also requires that higher education institutions track and report campus crime statistics and safety policies.
In September, the U.S. Department of Education notified college leaders of its plan to rescind earlier guidelines protecting survivors. No replacement guidelines have been issued, leaving many institutions in limbo. For example, campuses are required to have Title IX coordinators to handle investigations of Title IX complaints and ensure students are informed of their rights under this law. But with so little guidance from the government, the national organization that trains coordinators has put its program on hold because materials are “out of date.”
This lack of clarity could mean Title IX practices will start to diverge from university to university, or state to state. Without clear guidance, schools are forced to hedge their bets, facing potential lawsuits or possible sanctions from the federal government. Amid this widespread uncertainty, however, Oregon colleges and universities appear to be holding their ground.
At Marylhurst University, our commitment to provide a safe school learning environment will not change. For 124 years, Marylhurst has been a place of equity, respect and safety. Today, we believe the investigatory process for handling allegations of sexual misconduct should be fair and balanced. Guidelines from the government must be clear, consistent and rooted in the protections of Title IX.
Marylhurst was founded by women who knew the value of a safe and supportive education, and its potential to change lives for the better. As an educator, a mother and a lifelong scholar focused on the role of women in politics, I will do everything in my power to protect students from sexual harassment and assault. While Title IX and other school-based efforts are only part of a solution to a much larger problem of sexual misconduct and power, Oregonians should know that their colleges and universities are standing their ground rather than turning back the clock on preventing and addressing sexual assault.