Raising concerns about how the federal government will continue to handle campus sexual assault and other civil rights issues, the U.S. Department of Education this week appointed a new acting secretary for civil rights who has spoken out against feminism, criticized programs designed to assist people of color, and dismissed those who have accused Donald Trump of sexual violence as “fake victims.”
Candice Jackson is the new deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which oversees Title IX and sexual assault on campus. She can serve in the role — overseeing one of the department’s most important and high-profile offices — without confirmation for 210 days. Sexual assault survivors and civil rights advocates worry that Jackson will have plenty of time to have a serious impact on how the Trump administration handles civil rights cases in schools and on college campuses.
Through guidance documents and investigations at more than 200 institutions, the Obama administration made campus sexual assault prevention efforts a signature issue of its Education Department. The administration’s interpretation of the federal gender-discrimination law Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 allowed the White House to greatly increase enforcement efforts on college campuses. Trump, who has faced allegations of sexual assault and criticism over his treatment of women, has already inspired little confidence in how his administration would tackle gender-based violence. When Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education, who hired Jackson, was asked during her Senate confirmation hearing whether she would uphold the Obama administration’s Title IX guidelines, DeVos said it was “premature” to discuss her plans.
Last week, however, DeVos did meet with Earl Ehrhart, a Georgia state representative who recently — and unsuccessfully — introduced a controversial bill that would have forced Georgia colleges to report all sexual assaults to police, even when such a move would go against the preferences of the victim. Ehrhart also tried suing Obama’s Department of Education last year over its Title IX guidelines.
“In light of your meeting with a person who has been so openly hostile to Title IX, equality and victims’ rights, survivors and their advocates are even more eager to meet with you,” the National Women’s Law Center, SurvJustice, End Rape on Campus, and more than another dozen organizations wrote to DeVos in a letter Monday.
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