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Why Title IX Protections Are More Necessary Than Ever

Sexual assault has become a disturbing trend on college campuses today. In fact, the Department of Justice estimates that one out of every four female undergraduate students will fall victim to some form of sexual assault before earning their degree. Other studies suggest that one third of female students will be the victim of attempted rape before their sophomore year.

Recent high-profile cases including the Stanford rape case, and incidents at the University of Montana have illustrated the necessity for colleges and universities to adjust their policies in order to better protect students. However, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that nearly 95 percent of campus rapes in the United States go unreported--reflecting a dire need for increased campus prevention tactics, support groups for victims, and better enforcement of Title IX policies.

Title IX is perhaps best known for ensuring that male and female athletes be given equal opportunities in schools that receive federal funding, while simultaneously ensuring that women receive a quality education, thereby advancing their positions in the workplace. In today's political climate, however, sexual assault on college campuses has taken precedence.

Campus rape was a major issue that the previous administration hoped to address. Over the past 8 years, colleges and universities across the nation felt increased pressure from the Obama administration's Department of Education, who investigated over 100 colleges across the country for Title IX violations. As a result, colleges have begun to respond differently to students' sexual misconduct on campus.

With a new administration, and an entirely new Department of Education taking the reins, however, educators and students alike are worried that educational institutions may roll back regulations aimed to protect marginalized students from sexual assault on campus.

The worries may not be unfounded. During Betsy DeVos's recent confirmation hearing, the newly appointed Secretary of Education would not commit to enforcing Title IX requirements in the same ways that the previous administration had.

In fact, when directly asked about her stance in upholding the 2011 Title IX guidance relating to sexual assault on campus, DeVos seemed to skirt the question.

"Senator, I know that there's a lot of conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance--and if confirmed I would look forward to working with you and your colleagues and understand the range of opinion and understand the issues from the higher-ed institutions that are charged with resolving these and addressing them and I would look forward to working together to find some resolutions," DeVos said, later adding that it would be "premature" for her to give a firm yes or no answer regarding whether or not she would uphold the guidance.

DeVos' answers during her confirmation hearing have left many worried about what may happen to the Department of Education's 2011 guidance, which mandated that universities must play a role in combating sexual assault on campus.

One Title IX advocate, Nancy Hogshead-Makar recently told the New York Times, that she feared that without federal guidance, many schools may absolve themselves from responsibility due to a lack of authority "[putting] pedal to the gas." Doing so would essentially halt progress that has been made in regard to sexual assault on college campuses.

Other experts aren't so sure that universities will abandon Obama-era protocol, however.

"Schools have poured lots of money, time and resources into building title IX departments," writes Jessica Luther of the New York Times. "They have hired people to staff them and drawn up new policies and processes for addressing sexual harassment and assault. And universities are slow to change; think of them as huge cruise ships with small rudders."

In essence, Luther's argument centers around the idea that higher education as a whole is highly resistant to change. While leadership in the Department of Education is undergoing change, it is unlikely that individual colleges will change how they handle sexual assault cases moving forward, regardless of the ideology of current leadership.

Even if colleges were to abandon Obama-era procedures, there is solace for students who choose to report their attackers. The court system is still readily available for students who feel that their Title IX rights are being violated. Furthermore, public pressure has proven to go a long way in high profile cases, which could ensure that colleges stick to procedures that protect their student populations.

While the current administration may choose to go about upholding Title IX protections in a different manner, students and educators can find comfort in knowing that the universities are unlikely to change protocol, and that women still have the full protection of the law in the meantime.

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