OPINION: Repeal Of Obama-Era Policies On Assault Cases Decreases Campus Safety

OPINION: Repeal Of Obama-Era Policies On Assault Cases Decreases Campus Safety

Harvard. A place of rigor, academic perfection, and countless nights of coffee and energy drinks. Yet it is also a place of diversity, and as Harvard students raise fists and homemade cloth signs during Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ speech, they stare towards the live-streaming camera, their message resonating. Signs illustrating student rights with sayings such as, “Our students are not 4 sale!” line the lecture room and surrounding halls, as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos continues to silently unravel Obama-era education systems about university responses to assault cases. The silent protesters share the belief and confusion of thousands of students and victims across the U.S. who don’t know if they are guaranteed protection. By preventing schools from reporting cases without a burden of proof, and allowing them to resolve the case in their own mediation, the board opens up the doors to increased rape and discrimination, which could run amok at even the most prestigious of universities.

The Obama-era plan that Secretary DeVos repealed focused on strict guidelines on how schools handled cases in the proper departments. By creating an atmosphere that supported reporting and preventing assault, it allowed students to feel safer in a foreign environment. The threat of losing public funding if the schools didn’t comply also prevented any discrimination or laziness when it came to the system. Since sexual assault cases don’t usually have clear-cut evidence, the Obama-era plan relied on the assumption that someone is guilty when considering the evidence available. The lenient plan allowed students to get the justice that they yearned for, and helped to prevent predators off the campus. However, this plan didn’t come without controversy, as many politicians stated that the system was too lenient on the victim’s claims, and prevented the due processing of many students who were falsely accused. Harvard law professors state that the amount of checking and surveillance, made colleges go to the extreme, and that it was stacked against the accused.

While the repealed Obama plan wasn’t perfect, it’s also important to recognize the change since the plan was enacted. Students had a voice to rely on, and therefore the cases based on assault cases and the processes of investigation grew, changing the process for the better. The process after a reported case become clear for universities, insuring that they could act as soon as possible. Preventing the process of meditation also allowed the world to deal with the very real issue that is sexual assault, and as advocation grew, rape culture was increasingly frowned upon by peers. Rape itself is something that’s constantly under debate, due to a lack of evidence and witnesses, and the development of a discussion helped to clear some of the issues in the old plan. While students claim that their rights are violated when they are accused, it doesn’t mean that we should repeal an act that protects the rest of them. Instead of blaming the courts on gender profiling and assault stereotypes, the board and Secretary DeVos should work towards changing the current plan, not implementing a new one.

Instead of repealing the act, and waiting to create a new plan, the board should keep the Obama-era plan until it can create a improved one. While I am not a lawyer or an medical expert on these types of assaults, I can still determine that most of the things “wrong” with the plan can’t be fixed, such as the lack of evidence. However, there can still be beneficial change. For example, courts could review material evidence such as texts, or previous conversations, to interpret if the victim or accuser could be capable of creating a perceived reality. If anyone in the court had committed any previous actions that seem suspicious, then the campuses could suspend them. Any claim without reasoning wouldn’t result in a suspension, protecting the rights of the wrongfully accused, and allowing the true culprit to be suspended. Punishments could also be more severe, preventing students from even thinking about assaulting anyone in the first place. An environment that prevents circumstances like this from being created could also help, with campuses enacting a drinking curfew to allow witnesses in these sorts of cases, and eliminating the scapegoat of alcohol from the equation.  

Campus rape is a very serious issue that is tragically ignored by most, because of the social stigma. The recent change of these policies by Betsy DeVos will only make it worse by fostering an environment of ignorance and rape culture. While we can’t do much about it now, the most important thing to consider is in our hands. By helping to create a positive environment within our schools, we don’t have to rely on a changing policy to keep order. If students at Harvard can protest in a livestream, we can do the same. By spreading the word about sexual assault and preventing it from happening, we decrease the suffering of both the victim and the accused. And while Secretary DeVos won’t change her mind about policies, by contacting our local officials, we can outvote her if she wants to delete anymore of the act. If there is change required, we can express our views to officials, who can vouch for us in courts. As Harvard students silently rise up, we rise along with them, holding our own cloth banners, because this isn’t just the struggle for university students: it’s a fight for our future.