The United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is expected to release
updates to university and college policies regarding sexual assault and
harassment cases. These changes will give additional rights to people
accused of sexual assault and harassment, including giving them the power
to cross-examine the person accusing them
according to the Washington Post.
Officials expect these changes, which will replace the guidance issued
in 2011 by the Obama administration to be officially released before Thanksgiving.
Under these new rules, schools will be allowed to use stricter standards
when evaluating claims of sexual assault and harassment, create a narrower
definition of what constitutes as sexual harassment, and limit the liability
These changes come one year after DeVos rescinded the Obama administration
guidance, saying that it lacked due process for people accused of sexual
assault and harassment and was overly prescriptive. In a speech that year,
she spoke about students who were wrongly accused, and also said that
the rules did not adequately serve survivors who could be forced to go
through a number of appeals.
“Schools have been compelled by Washington to enforce ambiguous and
incredibly broad definitions of assault and harassment,” she said.
“Institutions must be mindful of the rights of every student.”
One major change, according to sources to the Washington Post familiar
with the matter updates the definition of sexual harassment from,
“unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” to “unwelcome
conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively
offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education
program or activity.”
Schools will also no longer be held legally responsible for its failure
to investigate a complaint, updating the language from “reasonably
should” be aware of the incident to having “actual knowledge”
that it occurred. This means that students who report allegations to a
resident advisor or professor do not meet these new criteria – it
must be reported to an official with the authority to “institute
In addition, these potential changes come in the wake of rising pressure
for schools to better handle sexual assault and harassment cases, they
are not expected to deal with the rights of transgender students. However,
the Education Department could issue a fact sheet or letter asserting
that sex discrimination doesn’t include gender identity-related
complaints in the future, according to the Washington Post.