U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to overhaul campus sexual-assault guidelines. Those Obama-era guidelines, she contended in an announcement last week, “failed too many students,” forcing ill-equipped universities to create their own quasi-legal structures and thus depriving the accused of due process.
DeVos’s concerns raise several serious questions about students’ rights on campus (Emily Yoffe explored the issue for The Atlantic in a three-part series earlier this month). The Obama-administration regulations, partially outlined in 2011 in what has become known simply as the “Dear Colleague” letter, have encouraged colleges to use the lowest possible burden of proof—just over a 50 percent likelihood of guilt—and, some argue, to effectively entertain a bias against the accused in their adjudication process.
Complicating matters further, the debate over sexual-assault policies is playing out at a time when cultural norms are shifting on campus—for better and for worse, depending on whom you ask. Recent changes in how people think about consent, for example, are evidence that the Obama-era rules aren’t all bad, says the author Vanessa Grigoriadis.
In her new book Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, & Consent on Campus, Grigoriadis explores the nuances and apparent contradictions in how modern-day college students view and have sexual relations. She analyzes, for example, how today’s female students can earnestly defend Title IX—the anti-gender-discrimination law used to regulate campus rape—while simultaneously celebrating their sexuality like never before. She also questions the expansive definition of sexual assault used by many colleges today. Her findings are based on three years of reporting across 20 universities, including interviews with 120 students and nearly 80 administrators and experts.