Betsy DeVos’s IX Reform and Student Civil Rights -Zachary Faria

   On Thursday Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, announced that the Department of Education would be reviewing the Obama-era sexual assault guidelines that routinely stomped on the rights of accused students on campuses across the country. Under the Obama administration, the threat of having their Title IX funding pulled forced universities to adopt a “guilty until proven innocent” mindset, in some cases denying accused students from having an attorney present, cross-examining their accuser, or having witnesses testify on their behalf.

Clemson’s Title IX procedures are no different. You are not guaranteed the ability to cross-examine your accuser, you can be banned from campus as a preventative measure before your trial even begins, be prevented from going to class, engaging in extracurricular activities, and evicting you from your on-campus housing. Clemson also operates under the standard of preponderance of evidence, a lower standard of proof that requires only a 50.1% chance that the accused committed a violation. Without an opportunity to address your accuser’s story, your trial becomes a “he said, she said” ordeal, where the standard of evidence is only that a violation was more likely committed than not.

The current Title IX standards are the result of the persistent myth that one in five women would be raped in their lifetime, based on a CDC study which has been critiqued as full of flaws, from its incredibly small sample size to its vague survey questions and poor sampling methods. Barack Obama parroted this study number multiple times as justification implementation of these strict standards. Clemson touts those same CDC’s statistics on the Student Health Services website.

Implementation during The Obama administration relied on numbers such as those from the CDC, cracking down on universities for their Title IX policies, and mandating changes that would make it easier to find a student guilty with little to no evidence. The burden of proof was changed from “clear and convincing” to the aforementioned “preponderance of evidence”, meaning that no evidence is really needed that something actually happened, just that it might have happened. This is especially harmful to student’s being accused over consensual activities that may or may not have gone awry, as their entire defense is that the event did happen but was consensual. The Obama administration required that Title IX investigations and trials be accelerated, hindering accused students from gathering exculpatory evidence. Accused students are also subject to double jeopardy, or a second trial, as the accuser can appeal a not guilty verdict.

All of the above lead to kangaroo courts where accused students were punished before a verdict is reached, and where no evidence at all lead to a guilty verdict. Reforms from Secretary DeVos should be a welcome sight for those concerned about due process on college campuses. A return to the “clear and convincing”  standard would be an ideal start, and allowing students to cross-examine their accuser would be beneficial to not only wrongfully accused students, but to real victims as well, as cross-examination is the best way to sort fact from fiction. The elimination of pre-hearing punishments like Clemson’s would be among reforms that would positively impact student rights.

Due process and the presumption of innocence hold together the social fabric of our country. As John Adams said, it’s more important to protect innocence than punish guilt because, “if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned…then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

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