Conversations about sexual assault require understanding Title IX

Jennifer Liu

President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law as part of the larger education amendments of 1972 and as a follow-up to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 

More recently, proposed changes to Title IX made by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have renewed the conversation around the issue of sexual assault in higher education. Some of the most notable changes include requiring schools to hold live cross-examinations of the two parties, an emphasis on the accused’s innocence until proven guilty and stricter guidelines on what constitutes sexual harassment. While some have claimed that Secretary DeVos’ changes would make the process of Title IX reports and investigations fairer for both parties, others say that they would hamper victims’ ability to come forth with allegations. When the U.S. Department of Education first published these proposed changes in November of 2018, UT System officials pushed back, sending a 15-page public comment to the Department detailing its complaints against the changes.  

Communities on campus have shown that this is an issue they care strongly about. In the past year, events such as Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing have seen students both demonstrate in support of Kavanaugh and in support of sexual assault survivors – most notably through a “Stand with Survivors” rally. And while the bulk of the discussion around Title IX often revolves around sexual assault, it’s important to remember that the law addresses discrimination on the basis of sex generally. Earlier this month, the University was sued by four fraternity pledges who claimed that their Title IX rights were violated through an unfair disciplinary process. The lawsuit accused the University of not punishing female students for similar disciplinary infractions as often or as severely as male students. 

UT’s Title IX office is the main resource available to students regarding any issues related to gender discrimination and sexual harassment and assault. There are also many student-led groups and initiatives committed to preventing and ending sexual violence on campus, such as It’s On Us, Not On My Campus, MenCanEnd, Voices Against Violence and BeVocal. 

For this week’s Forum, Not On My Campus president Rylee Trotter and It’s on Us incoming president Delaney Davis discuss the importance of both continuing and reshaping the discussion.

As always, if you have any thoughts on this topic or anything else, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].