Dozens of student body presidents across 32 states signed a joint comment last week against the Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX, a law that protects students from being discriminated against on the basis of sex in educational institutions.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed a list of changes to Title IX last November relating to sexual misconduct regulations, including adding more protections to the rights of the accused and narrowing the definition of sexual harassment. Students are concerned that these changes will negatively affect victims.
In the 60-day public comment period, the proposal received more than 100,000 comments, including one from student body presidents around the nation, one of whom was IU Student Government president Alex Wisniewski.
The presidents worked together finalizing the comment criticizing the changes.
Shanta Katipamula, Stanford University student body president, and Simran Mishra, University of Minnesota student body president, were instrumental in leading the initiative, Wisniewski said.
Coming together to draft and edit a comment was important because campuses around the country are deeply disturbed by the national climate around sexual violence, Mishra said.
The Title IX proposal drastically reduces the responsibility of the institutions, she said, leaving her concerned for the students she represents.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, you know,” she said. “We represent thousands of students and together there is so much power to our voice.”
The three student body presidents said their top priority is representing students.
“The Big Ten student body presidents alone represent just under half a million students, so it holds a lot of weight,” Wisniewski said of the joint comment.
Though each university has its own identity, the student body presidents came together to support students as a whole.
“Our voices can be really powerful to identify these issues which are common across all of our campuses,” Katipamula said.
Title IX is a federal law, so if the changes go into effect they will affect all campuses, which would be required to comply with the new regulations.
“Something that is cool about our comment is that the signatories span 32 states and represent private colleges, public colleges, community colleges,” Katipamula said. “It’s a tremendous show of unity that across the board, no matter the size of your institution or the kind of institution you have, these changes are not helpful.”
Katipamula said she hopes DeVos will take students’ reaction into consideration.
“I would hope that she is very serious about listening to students because ultimately these changes are going to be impactful whether you’re a complainant or a respondent in a Title IX process,” she said.
Katipamula said she hopes DeVos will sit down with student leaders and spend more time talking to survivors to get their perspectives, but she fears this may not happen.
Wisniewski said he thinks it was an important step to voice the student body presidents’ concerns in a comment before the proposed changes become law.
He said this comment is an example that there is more that unites students than divides them.
“Although we might have different political ideologies or different backgrounds or come from different places across the country, when it comes to student welfare, these are the things that students hold a priority,” Wisniewski said. “Seventy-six student body presidents were able to acknowledge that.”