Jerry Falwell Jr., the evangelical president of Liberty University, says President Trump has asked him to lead an education reform task force. He hopes to roll back federal regulations on campus sexual assault, according to a spokesperson from his university.
Falwell told the Chronicle of Higher Education Tuesday that though the details of the task force had yet to be formally announced, he would lead a group to identify changes that could be made to policies at the U.S. Department of Education.
Len Stevens, a spokesperson for Liberty University, suggested to Reuters on Wednesday that Falwell hoped to chip away at regulations affecting colleges and universities, including federal rules on investigating and reporting campus sexual assault under Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. Falwell “believes on-campus sexual assault investigations are best left to police and prosecutors,” reported the media outlet.
“I think that it’s very unfortunate that folks who are going to be in charge—Falwell and potentially Betsy DeVos—are thinking about rolling back the progress that we’ve made over the past two years, but I don’t think that changes the fact that schools have the responsibility under Title IX to treat all students equally and to ensure their safe and equitable access to education,” Annie Clark, executive director of End Rape on Campus (EROC), told Rewire.
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The Obama administration in a 2011 letter issued guidance to colleges and universities that said “sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.” The letter “also said that schools must respond promptly and equitably to reports of sexual violence and use a standard common in civil law, known as ‘preponderance of the evidence,’ when deciding whether a student broke rules against sexual misconduct,” according to the Washington Post.
Falwell isn’t the only Trump education pick whose stance on campus sexual assault has come into question. As Clark mentioned, Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, has been questioned about her stance on campus sexual assault.
While giving testimony in January before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, DeVos said “it would be premature” for her to say whether she would uphold the Obama administration’s guidance on Title IX.
Clark said DeVos, a billionaire GOP donor and vocal critic of public education, had not answered many questions posed by the #DearBetsy campaign, a joint venture between EROC and Know Your IX, about how the nominee would respond to sexual assault and LGBTQ students.
Falwell’s Liberty University reportedly enforces an honor code specifying that “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible” at the school. Such codes banning premarital and extramarital sex can lead universities to punish survivors who report sexual violence.
“We’ve actually seen that trend at Brigham Young, at other conservative whether Catholic or Christian schools across the country, we’ve seen survivors being punished for reporting, and I really hope that doesn’t happen” moving forward, Clark said.
She added that LGBTQ students “not being afforded equitable access to education, and freedom from that discrimination in their education” is another issue that could soon enter the political conversation. Some advocates are concerned that when it comes to their rights, “there will be a roll back for LGBT students. That discrimination will become the norm again,” Clark said.
Supporting survivors “is something that everybody can do regardless of the administration or legislation,” Clark said.
She encouraged people to “talk to your state representatives and state legislators about how to incorporate health relationship education into their already-existing health curriculum” and “call your senators and your representatives” to discuss these issues.