On Friday, the Department of Education officially revoked the Obama administration’s guidance on college sexual assault, offering interim guidelines on how universities should handle the issue. Democratic Senator Patty Murray said in a statement the decision could send sexual assault survivors “back into the shadows.”
When DeVos gestured at these upcoming plans in a speech earlier this month, many Democrats made similar statements. All 56 Democratic members of Congress who tweeted about the speech criticized it. Democratic Senators Bob Casey and Kristen Gillibrand called DeVos’ decision “an insult to survivors of sexual assault” and “[a betrayal of] our students, plain and simple,” respectively.
Since her confirmation hearing, DeVos and her staff have largely been depicted as perpetrator-sympathizers with no concern for sexual-assault victims who, in part thanks to Obama’s policy changes, now feel empowered to speak out. (This criticism has, at times, been understandable.) But there is serious disconnect between the harsh reaction to DeVos and the substance of what she said—one that underscores the deeply partisan nature of policy-building around college sexual assault.
As Emily Yoffe recently wrote for The Atlantic, DeVos would be “sensible” to change many of Obama’s policies on college sexual assault. “If [DeVos’s] statements were made by a different official in a different Administration,” Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote for The New Yorker, “they would seem rational, uncontroversial, and even banal.”