Reexamining the “Dear Colleague” letter undermines the civil rights of those involved in sexual assault cases on college campuses. The DCL was established in 2011 to rearticulate Title IX requirements that were long standing and that existed prior to the Obama administration. The “failed system” described by United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a result of individual universities’ flaws, not the DCL itself.
The DCL gives the necessary encouragement for sexual assault victims to come forward by ensuring that they will be heard and respected by their university. The Washington Post noted that prior to the DCL, a survivor of sexual assault had been told to drop out of school and to let their attacker finish their degree. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke out in a protest with Title IX advocates, speaking of how before this letter was instituted, survivors were blamed and retaliated against by the people who were supposed to protect them.
It is imperative that colleges have the DCL on their campuses because it gives young sexual assault survivors a voice and the respect they deserve, considering the trauma they have faced. This comes in the form of a fair trial, free counseling and assistance in switching classes if needed.
While DeVos claims that there are problems with the DCL, many of the examples she outlines are explicitly handled in the document. This includes providing due process to the alleged perpetrator, equal opportunity for witnesses and evidence for both parties and the opportunity for an appeals process and an impartial investigation. The fundamental tenants of the DCL are to “ensure a fair process for everyone involved,” according to The Huffington Post. The DCL serves as a reminder, not a law; it is essential, however, as it clarifies what rights survivors have and what guidelines universities must follow for campus sexual violence.
The need for the DCL is clear when viewing college sexual assault statistics. The Washington Post reports that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Many arguments against the DCL stem from the notion that it gives preference to the victims. In reality, it ensures equity for both parties. The Huffington Post said that only 2-10 percent of reported rapes or assaults are false.
Those who believe that students—specifically females—falsely claim rape need to consider the insensitivity of this mindset. Furthermore, they should support the DCL, as it helps to prevent a kangaroo court from occurring, which is“a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
The equity of Title IX and the clarification provided by the DCL is necessary to survivors when it comes to sexual assault on college campuses. Taking it away will only lead to confusion and complication for Title IX coordinators.
The criticism of the DCL is a clear indication of the position our current leaders have on campus sexual assault; it is clear they do not support impartiality or transparency. As college students, we must advocate for Title IX and the DCL to support students’ rights and to take a position on an issue so prevalent on our campus.