A Look Into Title IX, Columbia, And Betsy DeVos

Alvin Bayle and Henry Kincaid
The United State’s Title IX was implemented on June 23, 1972, by then-President Nixon. The act, formally known as the ‘Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972’, was implemented by both Republican and Democratic party members in order to combat sexual discrimination in government-funded education programs.
Title IX reads as follows:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or be subjected to discrimination under any education or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”
Recently, the most prominent case of Title IX was used by Paul Nungesser against Columbia University, as a result of a case regarding Emma Sulkowicz, otherwise known as the ‘Mattress Girl’, both of whom were students of the New York-based university.
Sulkowicz claimed that Nungesser, a fourth-year student and German national, had raped her in her dorm room on August 27, 2012, and pushed this complaint through to the University. Columbia dismissed the claim after they found little evidence of anything to support her case against Nunsegger.
The case achieved its unusual level of public interest due to both Sulkowicz and Nungesser feeling that the school mishandled the process, as well as due to Sulkowiz’s rather unusual means of protesting the whole ordeal. From Sulkowicz’s viewpoint, she was frustrated that she was not allowed to talk to anyone about the case other than with the school. Nungesser, on the other hand, was concerned that he could not use certain evidence against her.

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Paul Nunsegger (Left) (Source: NY Daily News)

Betsy DeVos, US Education Secretary, held a conference a few months ago at the Antonin Scalia Law School, where she stated that some universities do not contact the Department of Education for advice on cases, cases such as that concerning Sulkowicz and Nunsegger.
DeVos’s mention of Title IX at this conference appeared to stir up internet circles into researching back into the Columbia case, particularly in regards to its rather unusual use.
In 2014, after the case was dropped by the university, Sulkowicz contacted the police directly, taking the case up with them instead, but dropped it soon after when she discovered that the case would likely push past after her graduation from Columbia.
Sulkowicz claimed that she wished to remove “all of [her] memories of Columbia”, and presented this as the primary reason for her dropping her complaint with the police. In addition, Sulkowicz alleged that the NYPD police officers she dealt with had treated her poorly, saying that they were “dismissive of what she had to say”. After these ‘experiences’, Sulokowicz then went on to perform her infamous piece of performance artwork titled “Carry That Weight”, in which she carried around with her at all times a 100-pound mattress in order to create a metaphor for the emotional stress carried around by rape victims.
In 2015, Title IX made its appearance in the case, but not in the way that many would have expected it to appear. Instead of Sulkowicz using it as means of extenuating her art project, it was, in fact, Nungesser, the defendant, who used it to lodge his complaint against the university. The suit alleged that, among other things, by the university allowing Sulkowicz’s performance to go ahead, they had allowed bullying and gender-based discrimination to occur against him in a state-funded educational program. While the case was turned down in March of this year, Nungesser’s use of the Title caught the attention of commentators from all around the country.
In 2017, as reported in the university’s newspaper, The Columbia Spectator, the university acknowledged that Nungesser had experienced a very difficult time, and that they were fully dedicated to maintaining fairness in their gender-based misconduct policy. Columbia University settled Nungesser’s lawsuit under circumstances undisclosed to the general public.
It seems then, that there have been many campuses who appear to have handled these cases inside the college in order to try to maintain a low profile. Universities appear to fear calling on the support of the Department of Education, in the event that a case regarding Title IX would be investigated by the DoE, rather than by the university; the investigation would consider everyone’s case, and become a much larger affair than likely what would have been wanted or appreciated by the university; investigations headed by the Department of Education have to consider how the university in question handled the situation, and this becomes immediately problematic for any federally-funded school whose financial backing is at stake.
Too many universities have mishandled Title IX cases such as these all too often, and have also barred the accused from engaging in certain campus activities, as well as even just even stopping the accused from living on campus, such was the case of Kwado Bonsu of the University of Massachusetts. The accused regularly lack due process and are treated as someone that is already been found guilty by both the university and students alike. If due process is denied, then the campus has already drastically mishandled the case.
Betsy DeVos appears to want to change all this. In her conference, she stated that she wants to revise the Title IX clause in order to expand it. In particular, in order to protect the interests of all students, whether they’re the victim or the accused. She stated: “every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”
If Title IX is expanded and consolidated in the way that many of us hope DeVos’  plans will turn out, it will hopefully give everyone in a related case, no matter where they are in the proceedings, the opportunity to be treated fairly and as an innocent figure before any formal convictions. For many people currently stuck in this broken system, this move may give them hope.



Featured Image Credits: Getty

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