Valerie Jarrett is Former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and Chair of the Obama White House Council on Women and Girls. Tina Tchen is Former Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama and Executive Director of the Obama White House Council on Women and Girls. The views expressed are their own.
Today the US Department of Education signaled that the Title IX protections for sexual assault will be rolled back. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational setting receiving federal funding. It’s most commonly referenced in relation to sports, but Title IX offers many crucial protections including support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
During their administration, President Obama and Vice President Biden fiercely advocated to end sexual violence. In 2011, the Department of Education released guidance explaining Title IX protections and reminding schools of their responsibilities to respond to sexual violence in accordance with the law. In supporting this step, President Obama and Vice President Biden reiterated their longstanding and unwavering commitment to end sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. Contrary to Secretary DeVos' comments today, this guidance did not lead to a system run “amok,” but instead reminded schools of their obligations to protect all students from sexual assault and harassment. Almost immediately, we saw more schools hire Title IX coordinators and begin to change the way they handle sexual assault cases.
It’s up to all of us — students, parents, educators, and concerned citizens — to join together, to hold each other accountable, to hold our leaders accountable, and to hold this Administration accountable.
Now is not the time to roll back our progress to protect all students, especially when the data still shows that one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted during their college years. Studies also show gender nonconforming students can face an even larger risk of assault. These statistics speak for themselves but we have to remind ourselves that there are real people behind these stories. Brave student survivors came to us to talk about where colleges and universities were falling short, and raised their voices publicly to create change so that no one else would ever have to go through what they went through. And they told us how much of a difference it makes to all students to have the federal government speak unequivocally for the rights of survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
There are serious issues we need to continue to address in combatting sexual assault on campuses. Unfortunately, today’s announcement and misleading characterizations give us no confidence that the Department of Education will address these issues fairly.
What we’ve always known is that community organizing is the most powerful force for change. That’s why in 2014 we launched the It’s On Us campaign to harness the full power of college campuses to promote bystander intervention, define consent, support survivors, and be part of the solution to end campus sexual assault. It is also why we made violence against women a core pillar at the United State of Women Summit in 2016. And that’s why we’re continuing our commitment through these campaigns to fight for the rights of every survivor and advocate for the full enforcement of Title IX.
This is our moment to step forward. There are students and survivors on campus who are uncertain about their rights. It’s up to all of us — students, parents, educators, and concerned citizens — to join together, to hold each other accountable, to hold our leaders accountable, and to hold this Administration accountable.
Here’s what you can do today with groups organizing to defend Title IX: