U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), alongside Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Jackie Speier of California, and Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, introduced a bill on Dec. 10, 2019, that would prevent Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos from implementing, enforcing, or otherwise giving effect to her proposed rule changes to Title IX. DeVos’s proposed rules would have shielded — and in some cases prohibited — Michigan State University from taking action on the Title IX claims against convicted serial child molester Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and osteopathic physician at Michigan State University.
Proposed in November of 2018, the rule changes would raise legal standards for what constitutes sexual harassment, introduce procedural obstacles to reporting and adjudicating claims of sexual harassment, and limit a school’s responsibility to address sexual harassment based on where the harassment occurred and to whom it was reported. These rules could have a chilling effect on students’ willingness to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct and would be a detriment to survivors and to students in general and the academic institutions they attend.
Slotkin’s congressional district includes Michigan State University, where Nassar sexually assaulted hundreds of girls and women over the course of 20 years. Slotkin has established a Title IX district advisory board made up of survivors, advocates, legal experts and education professionals, with whom she has collaborated on a variety of legislation to prevent sexual assault and ensure survivors can seek justice.
“As the representative of the Michigan State University community that has been so deeply affected by sexual assault on campus, I cannot understand why Secretary DeVos continues to move forward with proposed changes to Title IX that make it harder for victims to come forward with a successful claim,” Rep. Slotkin said. “I have done everything I can think of to appeal to Secretary DeVos to change course: I’ve submitted a formal comment on the rules and sent letters opposing her proposed changes, I‘ve sent Freedom of Information requests, and met with her personally, all with the goal of reversing course.
“I have also met regularly with survivors, advocates, and university leadership in our district who remain deeply concerned about the chilling effect these rule changes would have on school safety. They also stand ready to meet with the Secretary to help her understand why her changes would hurt our communities. Given that Secretary DeVos insists on moving forward, I felt compelled to introduce this legislation that prevents those rules from taking effect.”
DeVos has received strong criticism, as well as over 100,000 formal comments, regarding her proposed rule changes to Title IX, which would make it more difficult for survivors to report instances of sexual assault or harassment by narrowing what constitutes a valid Title IX complaint.
Secretary DeVos’s proposed Title IX rule changes would specifically affect survivors of the Larry Nassar tragedy by either shielding MSU from liability to take action on, or requiring MSU to ignore, accusations against Nassar. Under Secretary DeVos’s proposed rules:
• In many instances, schools would not be responsible for addressing sexual harassment, even when school employees knew about the harassment. Under this proposed rule, Michigan State University would have had no responsibility to take action to stop Larry Nassar because survivors often reported sexual abuse to athletic personnel, staff, and others they trusted rather than individuals that meet a specific category of employee with “authority to institute corrective measures” or a Title IX coordinator.
• Schools would be required to ignore harassment that occurs outside of a school activity, including most off-campus and online harassment. Larry Nassar abused women on and off campus. But under these proposed rules, survivors like Amanda Thomashow (the first woman to file a Title IX complaint against MSU for Nassar’s abuse, leading to his investigation and eventual firing), would have been required to be ignored by the university because her assault took place just across the street from campus.
• Does not require universities to automatically take action if an employee is harassing students within the context of their employment at the institution. Under this rule, schools would not bear responsibility to take action to stop Larry Nassar, as he was abusing women and girls within the context of his job as a sports doctor.
• Schools would be required to ignore harassment until it becomes quite severe and harmful and denies a student educational opportunities. In other words, schools would be required to ignore the student’s Title IX complaints if the harassment hasn’t yet advanced to a point that it is actively harming a student’s education, meaning many students would need to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse without being able to ask their schools for help.
• More details on Secretary DeVos’s proposed Title IX rules can be found here.