As of January 8 of this year, the Department of Education has issued another Dear Colleague letter. It is different from their 2011 letter, but in a way that serves to underscore the Department’s hypocrisy and sexism.
For those new to the conversation, “Dear Colleague” letters are guidance letters sent out by the Department of Education to clarify how education personnel should do their jobs. To such personnel, such letters are often – despite their proclaimed good intentions – a bad combination of nosiness, vagueness, and heavy-handedness.
Given that many Dept. of Ed staff essentially live on the highest floor of the Ivory Tower, their letters often embody the elements of that vantage point. The most notable of these, as school administrators have pointed out, is a disconnect between themselves and the reality of the everyday life of faculty members, administrators, students, and parents.
In 2011 the Department of Education sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter addressing sexual assault on campus, compelling all public schools to adopt disastrously low standards of evidence to convict (“find in violation”) and run out male students accused of sexual assault. Those interested in the human rights of men and boys, as well as other civil rights organizations like FIRE and SAVE, have covered it extensively.
Now the Department of Education – this time partnering up with the Department of Justice – has issued another “Dear Colleague” letter. This time it is primarily directed toward lower ed schools and focuses not on sex/gender, but race. It addresses the phenomenon called the School to Prison Pipeline, pointing out that black students are significantly more likely to face heavy-handed punishments such as suspension and expulsion. The letter also calls for greater discretion regarding offenses committed by students of color.
Of course, since boys in lower ed are twice as likely to be suspended and three times as likely to be expelled (as well as 93% of those in prison), boys are also a part of the School to Prison Pipeline. This is why this site has a section dedicated to it. It’s also why they are worthy of the Department of Education’s acknowledgment.
Which they don’t do at all in this letter. Or any other, to my knowledge.
When comparing the 2011 and 2014 letters, it is obvious that the Department is advocating values that are literally polar opposites in each: greater discretion and due process protections on the one hand when it comes to race issues, and a zealous due-process-be-damned approach when it comes to men and boys.
One must wonder: what happens if a student wrongly accused of sexual misconduct is a black male?
The hypocrisy of the Department of Education deserves to be brought to public attention. I intend to do that by sending a letter to the Department itself (you can too). While I don’t expect a response, the nature and content of the email should at least be informative.
Addressed to the following:
- Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary to the Dept. of Ed.’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), at email@example.com
- Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, Dept. of Ed., at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Office of Civil Rights, Dept. of Ed., at email@example.com
Department of Education officials,
Greetings. My name is Jonathan Taylor. I am the founder of the website A Voice for Male Students, the motto of which is Educational Equity for Men and Boys. I am writing to you concerning the civil rights implications of the 2011 and 2014 Dear Colleague letters clarifying schools’ Title IX and Title IV obligations.
In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to this section of your recent 2014 letter advising schools to show more discretion in disciplinary procedures:
Schools also violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies and practices that, although not adopted with the intent to discriminate, nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race. The resulting discriminatory effect is commonly referred to as “disparate impact.”
The acknowledgment and heightened understanding of the phenomenon of institutional discrimination in this section is commendable. It is unfortunate (especially in the context of the recent media circus and widespread public outcry concerning suspended 6-year-old Hunter Yelton) that the 2014 DCL misses this opportunity to bring to light NCES data demonstrating that male students are twice as likely to be suspended, three times as likely to be expelled, and are 93% of the prison population. Indeed, the School to Prison Pipeline is not just a race issue, but a gender issue as well.
It is also unfortunate that the Department’s understanding of institutional discrimination – in particular, that a policy neutral by the letter may be discriminatory in implementation – was lost upon the crafting of the 2011 letter, which does the exact opposite of the 2014 letter by urging a zealous heavy-handedness among administrators and a cavalier approach to due process in the resolution of sexual assault accusations.
We cannot ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority – indeed almost all – of those accused of sexual assault are men and boys. Thus, a violation of the rights of the wrongly accused is indeed both a civil rights issue as well as a Title IX equity issue because it has a disparate impact upon men and boys. As you and I both agree, a policy neutral in its letter may yet be discriminatory in implementation.
One might wonder: what would be your guidance if a wrongly accused student is a black male? Should administrators exercise greater discretion due to a heightened consciousness of race issues, not the least being the School-to-Prison Pipeline? Or are they to exercise even less discretion and cut corners with due process on the basis of sex, ignoring the perhaps inconvenient truth that men and boys are just as represented in that pipeline?
Do you seriously think the Department is not setting itself and many schools up for trouble down the road in this regard?
I’m aware of the Department’s rationalizations for demanding that schools adopt low standards of evidence to find male students guilty of sexual misconduct: in particular, the statistic that 1-in-5 college women are sexually assaulted. Even assuming that statistic is true, it begs the question: does a high rate of crime among a particular demographic justify an erosion of that demographic’s civil rights?
Put another way, would you accept the argument from a high school principal that the high numbers of black violence and crime – cited directly from official Department of Justice statistics – would justify weakening due process for black students?
No, I don’t think you would. Nor should you, of course. Indeed, that is why the 2014 letter was drafted in the first place.
But you do when it comes to male students, even when a triangulation of data from various sources throws the credibility of the 1-in-5 statistic into very dubious light. Even when making the generous assumptions that only 1 in 10 sexual assaults are reported and 100% of those accusations are true, nearly all (if not all) campus crime reports yield numbers that are far removed from the 1-in-5 figure.
This disparity in the application of the values of educational equity is part of a bigger picture that has eluded (to put it charitably) the Department of Education for some time. The Department, and academia in general, owes something to the cause of educational equity, and to men and boys. It owes the world a public acknowledgment that college men are much less likely to graduate, that they are highly represented in the School to Prison Pipeline, and that they are socially isolated and marginalized and commit suicide at extremely high rates.
It also owes the world an acknowledgment that due process is not just a fundamental human right that applies to this or that group, but to all – including men and boys. It also needs people who are open to accepting that many young men face an unacceptable degree of bias, hostility, and prejudice on the basis of sex, and that these are not “errors in judgment” but moral failings that require redress.
I document these things on my website in the hopes to inform the public and motivate them to become agents of change. You have the opportunity to do something similar. At some point these gaps have to close. If you’d like assistance in this regard, let me know.
Founder, A Voice for Male Students