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California Defiant In Early Talks About Rollback Of Campus Sexual Assault Protections

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses the department staff at the Departm...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addresses the department staff at the Department of Education on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she intends to rewrite federal guidance on how colleges should react to reports of sexual assault. California’s public university systems intend to press forward with their Obama-era reforms anyway.

In 2011, the Obama administration eased the burden of proof for colleges to act on student sexual assault allegations. They could discipline perpetrators if there was a “preponderance of evidence” against them, a lesser threshold than the legal community’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

RELATED: San Diego Schools Superintendent To DeVos: Put Fact Before Ideology

DeVos said that has put too many innocent students accused of sexual assault in the crosshairs. While she denounced sexual assault as “reprehensible,” she said the current system has not achieved due process for either party.

In the years following Obama’s efforts, California and its universities passed several laws and policies to shore up campus sexual assault prevention and investigations. The University of California has said it will not waver in its efforts, and a spokeswoman for the California State University system told the Los Angeles Times it is planning a sit-down with DeVos.

RELATED: School District Pulls Resolution To Invite Betsy DeVos To San Diego

“If those changes take place, and I know that we’re waiting and seeing, it will be a crushing blow to the efforts that we have made nationwide in showing survivors, not just telling survivors, but showing survivors that we’re serious when we say we believe you,” said Marielle Downes, chief operating officer of the Center for Community Solutions, a San Diego nonprofit that supports sexual violence survivors.

Downes said the nonprofit’s relationship with area universities has grown as they work to improve training, resources and discipline procedures around campus sexual assault.

San Diego State spokeswoman Katie White said the campus has implemented several changes, including creating a comprehensive sexual violence campaign, requiring training for all freshmen and staff, and hosting an annual “Take Back the Week” event series. Training focuses on affirmative consent, bystander intervention, healthy relationships, relationship violence and how to support survivors.

Cal State San Marcos Title IX Coordinator Bridget Blanshan said in a statement:

“Student safety is of paramount importance at CSUSM as is our commitment to the rights of all students to an education free from sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. We are also committed to students’ rights to be treated fairly and objectively when incidents are reported to the University.

The University provides a great deal of educational outreach to students, faculty and staff in order to prevent incidents and safely intervene when someone may be at risk. We offer support resources for all members of our campus community who are impacted by traumatic incidents. We encourage reporting so that the University may link individuals to campus and community based resources and uphold our fundamental commitment to the safety of our university community.”

According to filings with the state, there were 27 sexual assaults at San Diego State in 2015, the most recent reporting year, 16 at Cal State San Marcos, three at University of San Diego and zero at UC San Diego. Experts, however, say many sexual assaults go unreported.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this week said she intends to rewrite federal guidance on how colleges should react to reports of sexual assault. California’s public university systems intend to press forward with their Obama-era reforms anyway.

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