WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden on Monday ordered a review of the previous administration’s policies on how colleges should handle sexual assault allegations, and established a White House Gender Policy Council.
In an executive order signed Monday morning, Biden directed the Department of Education to review regulations, guidance and policies implemented by former President Donald Trump’s administration, including changes to Title IX regulations that prohibit sex discrimination in federally funded institutions.
The review aims to ensure that the Biden administration’s policies “guarantee education free from sexual violence,” according to a White House fact sheet.
Biden focused on gender equity during his campaign and promised to strengthen Title IX if he won the White House. He also signed a second executive order formally establishing the White House Gender Policy Council, which his administration says is part of “a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the United States and around the world.”
Biden’s transition team announced his plans to create the council before he took office.
The orders come ahead of Biden’s remarks to mark International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
The review of Title IX could pave the way to a major shift in how colleges handle allegations of sexual misconduct moving forward.
Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in 2018 rescinded an Obama-era administration standard in cases of reported sexual assault from requiring a “preponderance of evidence” — meaning it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred — to “clear and convincing evidence.”
The DeVos changes reduced the liability of colleges and universities for investigating sexual misconduct claims and bolstered the due process rights of the accused, including the right to cross-examine their accusers through a third-party advocate at campus hearings.
In 2020, DeVos unveiled final regulations on how colleges should deal with sexual misconduct allegations on campuses. She said the rules would require “schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”
Biden’s order directs a review of the 2020 regulation “to determine whether the regulation and agency action are consistent with the policies of the Biden-Harris Administration,” a White House fact sheet said.
Biden, as vice president, along with then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan in 2011 laid out the legal guidance of what was expected of college campuses in response to allegations of sexual violence on behalf of President Barack Obama’s administration.
With the Education Department review, Biden’s intent is to set policies that help ensure students have an environment that’s free from sexual harassment and without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to one White House official who briefed reporters on the orders.
The order establishing the Gender Policy Council comes after Trump disbanded an office specifically focused on women’s issues created during the Obama administration that was called the White House Council on Women and Girls.
While the new council is a resurrection of the Obama-era one, one administration official said that giving it a new name was acknowledgment that inequities can affect people of all genders. Still, the official said the council will primarily focus on issues facing women and girls because of the “disproportionate barriers” they face.
The new council is tasked with helping push gender equity on the administration’s domestic and foreign policy efforts. Some of the issues the council will focus on include combating sexual harassment, addressing structural barriers to women’s participation in the workforce, decreasing gender wage and wealth gaps, addressing caregiving issues that have disproportionately impacted women and responding to gender-based violence.
Jennifer Klein, chief strategy and policy officer at anti-sexual harassment activist group Time’s Up, is cochairing the council with Julissa Reynoso, a lawyer who previously served as a diplomat and deputy assistant secretary of state during the Obama administration.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.