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75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science

January 30, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 30, 2019--The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the U.S. Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding. In November, the Education Department issued draft changes to Title IX that would narrowly redefine sexual harassment and restrict the processes at U.S. schools and colleges for reporting and responding to charges of sexual harassment.

"Sexual and gender harassment remains widespread in academic and scientific fields and puts the country's ability to excel in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) fields at great risk," said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. "Research and data need to drive policy rather than being at odds with it."

"Sexual and gender harassment have no place in STEMM," said Shirley Malcom, senior advisor at AAAS. "Cultivating talent means providing a welcoming and safe environment for all in support of excellence in research, education, and practice. The proposed Title IX changes work in opposition to those goals."

The comments submitted by the scientific societies today emphasize three major concerns and cite relevant research.

1. The Definition of Harassment Has Been Narrowed at Odds with the Intent of Title IX

The Department of Education's proposal severely limits the scope of harm required to meet the definition of harassment and to trigger action by institutions of higher education and other institutions with federally funded educational programs. The proposal overall does not reflect the documented harms of harassment that prevent targeted individuals from full and equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, educational programs and activities mandated by Title IX.

2. The Circumstances Under Which Title IX Applies Are Too Restrictive

The department's efforts to strictly narrow the circumstances under which Title IX requires a response under the definition of "education program or activity" would result in circumstances where one or more institutions, in principle, should have the responsibility to respond, but no institution would have an obligation to respond, to very significant incidents of sexual harassment--or even incidents of sexual assault.

3. The Notice Requirements Are Too Restrictive

The proposed regulation limits incentives for educational institutions to become aware of sexual harassment and thereby be obligated to respond. Scaling back mandatory reporting of incidents creates an incentive for institutions to create policies that avoid notice of harassment and would potentially lead to confusion among students and employees about who might be in a position to take steps to end harassing conduct.

The societies note that these provisions "will reinforce barriers created by sexual harassment and leave no one with a regulatory obligation to address sexual harassment. These proposals are not mandated by, nor do they reflect, decades of administrative and court interpretations of Title IX. The administration has provided no compelling reasons, or evidence, to demonstrate that its proposal is consistent with the broad intent of Title IX to eliminate sex-based discrimination in educational institutions."

The societies strongly recommend that the proposed changes not be made final until the department, "with serious regard for the facts, evidence, and research," addresses the prevalence and harm of sexual harassment in a new proposal. To ensure full consideration of existing research and evidence in this area, the societies also urge that the department extend its comment period.
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About AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest research society dedicated to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, the association strives to advance knowledge about education, to encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. AERA fosters innovation in research and learning, builds research capacity, and connects high-quality research with practice and policy. AERA's 25,000+ members--located in every U.S. state and in 105 countries worldwide--are committed to high-quality research that yields cumulative and replicable findings of value for improving education. Find AERA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

About AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational Medicine; Science Signaling; a digital, open-access journal Science Advances; Science Immunology; and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

CONTACTS:

Tony Pals, American Educational Research Association
(202) 238-3235 (office), (202) 288-9333 (cell)
tpals@aera.net

Tiffany Lohwater, American Association for the Advancement of Science
(202) 326-8737 (office)
tlohwate@aaas.org

American Educational Research Association

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