Betsy DeVos Rescinds Dear Colleague Letter

Dennise Reynoso, Writer

On Sept. 7, Secretary of State Betsy DeVos announced that the administration will make changes to current college campus policies concerning sexual assault and violence. DeVos explained that the “Dear Colleague Letter” put in place by former president Barack Obama, will be overturned due to apparent misconduct on college campuses execution of sexual assault cases due to the legal statement.


The public has expressed outrage at DeVos’s decision to rescind the letter, claiming this action will lead to little accountability of assailants, which was the initial goal of the Dear Colleague letter. The letter was put in place in order to urge colleges to react effectively and immediately in the event that a student suffers from any sexual violence.  It acts as an extension of the Title IX clause that states discrimination in schools is prohibited on the basis of sex. The document uses and interprets Title IX in a manner that requires educational institutions to readily rectify this form of sex discrimination, seeing as a lack of action hinders the victim’s right to exercise, to the fullest potential, their opportunity to education.


Although the letter has been effective in obligating universities to execute swift punishment on those who commit rape or any other form sexual assault, problems have emerged as well. The contents of the Dear Colleague letter are, for the most part, vague in terms of specificity on how college campuses should deal with issue. This means universities are often left to their own devices in this regard. It also does not actually have any legal standing besides being mostly just a guide that directly compels colleges to take action against a sexual misdemeanor. This can cause a conflict in enforcing discipline on to the accused.


An example of this is the instance in which a student at George Mason University accused another student of having raped her. The school responded by expelling the student who committed the alleged offence. He then sued the college and because it was unconstitutional to have expelled the students without a fair trial that proved his criminality; he got off on no charges of sexual assault.


There are countless cases in which college campuses made wrong and unfair decisions based on their obligation to contents of the Dear Colleague letter. False allegations have ruined the reputations of students and have lead to expulsions without due process. Although the document is not necessarily a bill, the Office of Civil Rights still treat the letter as the law and enforce it as such when they review whether schools have abided by its standards. This leaves colleges directors caught between a moral responsibility to their students and legal constraints. Frustrated, universities in the end are often unable to aid victims as well as those who are falsely accused.  


The Obama administration’s handling of assault can actually prove detrimental for both the victim and the wrongly incriminated. The Dear Colleague letter should be repealed and replaced with concrete regulations that can effectively address sexual assault and violence in a fair and just way.