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Victim U.


After a couple years of grievances dropping, which coincided with a pandemic that closed campuses and prevented students from having personal interactions, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is thrilled to announce that complaints are back and there are more of them than ever.

Nearly 19,000 complaints were filed to the office in the last fiscal year — between Oct. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022 — more than double the previous year and breaking the record of 16,000 filed in fiscal year 2016, according to figures provided by the department. The surge reversed the decline in complaints filed to the office under the Trump administration, which rolled back civil rights protections.

That last sentence about De Vos rolling back civil rights protections is a curious one, given that the regulations were changed to provide civil rights protections where the past and current head of the office stripped them from the accused as too painful and burdensome to accusers to guarantee they would prevail, right or wrong.

But that the  number of complaints doubled is the crux of the story here. What are we to take away from this unparsed number?

Officials say the complaints — most alleging discrimination based on disability, race or sex — reflect grievances that amassed during the worst public health crisis in a century and the most divisive civil rights climate in decades.

How grievances “amass” during a pandemic is unexplored. Too much free time, so why not invent new grievances to complain about, to suffer, to feel? And what does the once and present DoE chief civil rights bureaucrat have to say about it?

Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said the jump in the number of complaints, which have not yet been made public but will be reflected in the office’s annual report in the coming months, is both encouraging and sobering.

“It reflects the confidence in the Office for Civil Rights as a place to seek redress,” Ms. Lhamon said. “At the same time, the scope and volume of harm that we’re asking our babies to navigate is astronomical.”

By “our babies,” Lhamon means college students. Now granted, they have quite a ways to go before reaching adulting, assuming they ever will, but one might hope they’ve gotten past babies on the way to the quad. More importantly, Lhamon tacitly assumes that every grievance is real and demands her avenging sword to sever the head of the beast. But she’s quite right to say it reflects “confidence” that true or false, real or fantasy, they can be confident that Lhamon’s OCR will believe the complainers and crush their enemies.

There is no question that there are legitimate and serious complaints raised, and that between Title VI and Title IX, violations that require federal intervention when local school boards fail to address discrimination in their districts. But this is an article about quantity, not quality. Proffering a handful of cherry picked cases out of 19,000 adds little to explain why the numbers have exploded.

What might provide some explanation is that race, once deemed something to eradicate as a distinguishing factor in education, is now embraced as positive.

“The shift toward race-conscious policies means that schools are consciously injecting race into things, when we believe they should not be,” said Nicole Neily, who founded Parents Defending Education in 2021.

“There are awful injustices that are taking place,” Ms. Neily added. “But I worry that in this continued obsession of trying to inject identity into everything, it almost undermines where there is real injustice.”

Another factor at play is the obsession with gender identity and the expectation that every student be given an educational climate that centers on his, her or their gender identity, even though it comes at the expense of other students’ identities, gender or otherwise.

The department also saw a sharp increase in the number of complaints alleging transgender and gender-identity discrimination in violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

L.G.B.T.Q. rights advocates say that the complaint volume reflects both the heightened visibility of the population and the backlash over laws that are designed to protect them.

Does this demonstrate that there is an explosion, an epidemic, of racist and sexist discrimination on campus, or an explosion of perceptions as to what constitutes discrimination, what constitutes harm and how victimhood has become a status symbol. Bear in mind, these laws relate to discrimination that impairs a student’s ability to enjoy educational benefits. It is not a guarantee that the school environment align with every student’s most fevered preferences.

So what does Catherine Lhamon plan to do about these “numbers”?

For Ms. Lhamon, the complaint volume reflects the range of debates in school communities about what and how civil rights apply, and for whom. The office’s mission as a neutral fact-finder will not waver, she said.

“I am honored that more people are turning to us,” she said.

Rarely are neutral fact-finders “honored” that there is an epidemic of victims on campus seeking a savior to fix their world.


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