CW: This article discusses sexual assault and misconduct.
President Joe Biden has called on the Department of Education to review all current policies on sex and gender discrimination in education institutions. One of two executive orders signed by the president on International Women’s Day on March 8, the move is widely seen as the beginning of Biden’s efforts to roll back Title IX revisions made by the previous administration.
The executive order calls for an examination of all existing regulations and guidance on sex discrimination and a reevaluation of provisions inconsistent with the goal of Title IX. “ As soon as practicable, and as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of Education shall review existing guidance and issue new guidance as needed,” the order reads.
During her tenure as Secretary of Education, Trump appointee Betsy DeVos expanded protections for students accused of sexual assault and narrowed university liability. These revisions were met with criticism by many survivors, advocacy groups, and universities. In January 2019, Georgetown submitted a formal comment to the Department of Education expressing concern over the lowered standards of accountability for universities.
“Consistent with our core values, Georgetown supports regulations that hold institutions and individuals accountable, encourage reporting, and allow institutions to address the broad range of sexual misconduct that impacts their communities before an individual’s access to education is effectively denied, regardless of where the conduct occurred,” university President John DeGioia wrote in the letter. “Georgetown is concerned that, in many respects, the proposed regulations do not succeed in promoting these goals.”
Biden has also been critical of the Trump administration’s revisions, arguing that “they would “return us to the days when schools swept rape and assault under the rug, and survivors were shamed into silence.”
Before the revisions went into effect in August 2020, Georgetown promised to maintain the previous standard of a “preponderance” of evidence in hearings and to change the Title IX reporting process as little as possible. Though the university must currently adhere to DeVos’s definitions of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence, the administration has assured students that the same conduct remains prohibited by the new regulations.
Now, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will have 100 days to examine the body of rules surrounding Title IX and rescind any rules that are “inconsistent” with the views of the Biden-Harris administration. It is still unclear whether Cardona will seek to restore Obama-era provisions or seek a middle ground between the two previous administrations.
While the regulatory process for updating Title IX will take a year or more—and is likely to face opposition from organizations who favored DeVos’s revisions—education policy experts call the executive order an “opening salvo” in the new administration’s efforts to walk back revisions that narrowed the definition of sexual harassment and diminished university responsibility.
“All students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the executive order reads.