U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin on Thursday, April 11, 2019, convened a robust community discussion on sexual assault with survivors and local issue experts and advocates to solicit input on how to strengthen Title IX protections, as well as the impacts of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposed changes to Title IX.
Slotkin represents the 8th Congressional District, which includes Livingston and Ingham counties and sections of Oakland County. The district also includes Michigan State University, where the perpetrator Larry Nassar sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls for over 20 years.
Kayla Grant, LACASA’s Community Education Youth Prevention Services Coordinator, was among those attending.
Slotkin, who has expressed strong opposition to Secretary DeVos’s proposed Title IX rule changes, sought input from the community on how she could help strengthen Title IX protections for survivors, and on possible legislation to improve Title IX. Slotkin has scheduled a meeting to speak with Secretary DeVos in person in May.
“Almost immediately after being sworn in, I arrived in Washington and learned the details of Secretary DeVos’s proposed changes on Title IX,” Slotkin said at the event, held at the Allen Neighborhood Center. “As the person now representing Michigan State University in Congress, it got my attention because the Secretary’s proposed changes were, to me, the opposite of the lessons we learned from what happened at Michigan State.”
Slotkin was joined on the panel by Amanda Thomashow, who filed the first Title IX complaint against Larry Nassar; State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., whose Michigan district includes MSU; Katherine Rifiotis, president of the Associated Students of MSU; Tashmica Torok, executive director of the Firecracker Foundation; Grace French, founder of the nonprofit Army of Survivors; Kat Ebert, a survivor and MSU student; and Elizabeth Abdnour, an attorney specializing in education and workplace discrimination and harassment matters.
Each panelist made remarks, followed by audience members sharing their concerns and issues with Title IX and policy recommendations.
“I know this is an extremely difficult topic,” Slotkin said at the event’s close. “I have learned a tremendous amount from folks in the room and it has absolutely colored the approach I take to this issue. And we know from media reports as recently as yesterday that the voices of the survivors have made a dramatic impact on who is coming forward and feeling like they can actually share their stories. It is having an amazing ripple effect, so thank you.”
Secretary DeVos’s proposed Title IX rule changes would specifically impact 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.