Forty years after the creation of Title IX, the federal gender-equity law that made headlines mostly on the sports pages, it is now transforming how colleges must respond to allegations of sexual violence, reports USA Today. The reasoning: Title IX’s key language, running barely 30 words, forbids sex-based discrimination that denies access to educational opportunity. It’s long established that sexual discrimination and harassment can create an atmosphere that denies women their right to education. What’s newer is applying the logic to even a single episode of sexual assault.
Typically, colleges enjoy wide leeway in responding to student misconduct, whether that means using a disciplinary board to enforce their own rules or simply punting the matter to law enforcement. But as Title IX is now interpreted — and would be reinforced under a new version of the Violence Against Women Act awaiting a Senate vote — colleges must respond if a sexual assault is reported, even if prosecutors refuse to get involved. Moreover, they face often precise instructions from the government for conducting their investigations and proceedings, and even the standard of proof to use. Victims’ advocates welcome what they call an overdue push for colleges to take seriously a problem they’ve long swept under the rug.