PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In September, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said any new policy on investigating sexual assault on college campus must balance the rights of victims and the accused and announced plans to replace Obama administration guidance that spells out schools’ responsibility.
DeVos calls that a failed system and says the rights of all parties must be taken into account.
“Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug,” DeVos said in a statement in September. “But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
But Monday, Oregon US senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley met with Brenda Tracy on the Portland State University campus in response to DeVos’ decision.
Tracy was raped by 4 men at Oregon State University in 1998, and she said 2 of them were football players.
For more than two years, Tracy has been speaking to college football players around the country, advocating for a culture change on college campuses.
In a statement released Monday, PSU officials said:
In the past decade, a great deal of progress has been made by Portland State University and higher education institutions nationwide in firmly taking a stand against sexual violence. We are glad to see that the DOE’s interim Title IX guidance allows us to continue our effort at PSU in how we educate students about campus sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual harassment; how we investigate; and how we honor and protect the rights of all parties involved.
“Although the DOE has issued new guidance on campus sexual misconduct, nothing of significance has changed regarding our responsibilities and commitments. Over the past six years, we have evolved in our understandings of what consent means and what a healthy sexual relationship should be. We have also been learning how to better care and look out for each other.
“Portland State works to prevent sexual violence by teaching students about consensual relationships and bystander interventions. These workshops benefit all students: men, women, and non-binary. As we begin our academic year, our new students are attending workshops, and the Illuminate program provides other workshops throughout the year. We encourage you to get involved. … “
Activists said DeVos’s announcement represents a step backward for efforts to teach bystanders and others in the community to think differently about sexual assault. They found it especially troubling that the move came from the administration of Donald Trump, who was accused of sexual assault by several women, though never charged or convicted. Last fall, a recording from 2005 surfaced on which he was heard bragging that he could grab women and get away with it. He later dismissed it as “locker room talk.”
Sofie Karasek, a co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said in a statement that DeVos’s decision is an attempt “to protect those who ‘grab’ by the genitals and brag about it — and make college campuses a safer place for them.”
Still, experts say they believe the momentum for bystander programs will continue. The bystander movement was propelled by a 2013 federal law requiring colleges and universities to hold trainings for students and faculty in how to recognize and prevent sexual violence, and that law remains in place.
KOIN 6 News will have more information later in the day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.