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Betsy Devos and Title IX

Calls to Action

Title IX may be the most misunderstood of the civil rights laws despite the fact that it has been around since 1972. Some of the misconceptions about Title IX include: (1) the statute only applies to colleges and post-secondary schools, not elementary and high schools; (2) Title IX only covers gender discrimination in sports programs; and, (3) Title IX has nothing to do with sexual violence and sexual harassment.

No, no, and no. Title IX provides:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

 What Does Title IX Do?

 Title IX is broad-reaching and protects against discrimination “based on sex in education programs and activities in federally funded schools at all levels.” Accordingly, Title IX does not just apply to colleges; rather, Title IX applies to all public and private schools that receive federal funds including elementary, middle, and high schools. Title IX is enforced by the Federal Department of Education’s, Office of Civil Rights, and the United States Department of Justice.

Title IX is expansive and protects a recipient’s “students, employees, applicants for admission and employment, and other persons from all forms of sex discrimination, including discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”

Trends in Title IX Rules and Enforcement

 Even though, Title IX is applicable to all educational institutions receiving public funds, it is probably one of the least-known civil rights statutes. When the public thinks about anti-discrimination complaints, discussion generally focuses on the more traditionally utilized remedies for discriminatory conduct like Title VII (anti-discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and nationality), the Americans With Disabilities Act (as amended), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and other various constitutional provisions requiring Equal Protection under the law.

In fact, the public has largely regarded Title IX as performing only one function, that is to prohibit gender discrimination between men’s and women’s college athletic programs.

Obama administration Title IX policies focused on protecting survivors of sexual-violence on campuses. Obama’s Department of Education guidance promoted the investigation of allegations of sexual violence by neutral professionals, encouraged covered-institutions to hire trained Title IX Coordinators, and advocated for policies that required schools to dedicate sufficient resources to set up and maintain Title IX services for survivors of sexual assault and/or harassment on campuses.

In November of 2018, Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, proposed new rules governing the administration of Title IX programs. The new rules bolster the rights of the accused while reducing schools’ obligations to investigate sexual assault and/or harassment. There has been an outcry over the proposed new rules from victim’s rights groups and from covered educational institutions as well. The best evidence of the uproar caused by the proposed rules are the more than 100,000 comments filed by citizens and organizations that can be viewed on line.

So What Can You Do?

While the Department’s period for receiving comments is closed, you can still call and write your senators and representatives in Washington to contest the new rules as they are not yet final. This is one of the most contentious issues facing victim’s rights groups and feminists today. It should not be the mission of the United States Department of Education to make it more difficult for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment to be heard and our educational institutions are the tip of the spear on this issue.

Deb Wakefield is a writer and labor & employment attorney in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in the deep south, Union Springs, Alabama, and frequently writes fiction about her Southern roots. She also writes legal thrillers that draw on her experience as a lawyer. Deb and her husband Robert live in Frisco, Texas with their two dogs Buddy and Jack.

 All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author.