Two weeks ago, a little over two thousand people converged on Bellevue Way. Half of them were there to hear Betsy DeVos speak, the other half were there to protest her. DeVos, the Education Secretary for Donald Trump's administration, had been invited to speak by the Washington Policy Center, a right-leaning think tank based in Seattle. Her speech steered closely to her prepared remarks, a boilerplate of rhetoric espousing the value of charter schools and voucher programs. What DeVos called "school choice," the protesters in the street called "profit[ing] off of our students." The protest had been organized by the Equity in Education Coalition, and in attendance were King County Executive Dow Constantine and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Four days after the rally, Ferguson sued DeVos and her department for refusing to enforce a rule that prohibits for-profit schools offering junk degrees from receiving federal funding.
One topic which DeVos studiously avoided in her remarks before the Washington Policy Center was sexual assault on college campuses. In September, DeVos overturned Title IX protections laid out during Obama's term that laid out the legal obligations of schools when promptly responding to sexual violence. The rule also protected students against discrimination by gender identity, which DeVos also threw out.
Betsy DeVos’ decisions reveal a fundamental disinterest in either the safety or education of womxn and girls. By rescinding Title IX protections, she is directing the Department of Education to place the hurt feelings of those accused of sexual assault above the actual harm caused to survivors. DeVos had more than adequate time during her listening tour to hear the dozens of organizations (YWCA included) who explained to her that less than 8% of all sexual assault allegations are false. That she decided not to listen to that information in rewriting the rules of the Obama administration demonstrates that her priorities derive from elsewhere. As a cabinet member of an administration who’s main goal, nay, entire raison d'être is the undoing of the last president’s agenda, she may feel that she has been directed to reverse this rule.
But Devos hasn’t just received advice from organizations that work with and advocate on behalf of sexual assault survivors, she’s also spent considerable time visiting with lobbyists from the school choice movement. As the founder of the All Children Matter PAC, a political fundraising committee which seeks to elect politicians in favor of privatizing education, DeVos’ perspective on what is best for college students may not come from the students themselves, but from those who turn a profit from them.
For womxn and trans individuals pursuing their dreams in higher education, campuses should be safe learning environments where they can succeed. As #MeToo trends on social media today we hope that we can focus policies on ending sexual assault on our campuses. We trust women and we believe survivors. Betsy DeVos seems more inclined to believe the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.
Eric Bronson is the Digital Advocacy and Engagement Manager at YWCA. He manages the Firesteel blog in addition to its social media streams and action initiatives. A graduate of Oberlin College, Eric focuses on the intersection of race and gender within the American political economy.
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