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Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford discusses measures to help the public with housing stability amid the COVID-19 public health crisis at a press conference at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, Sunday, March 29, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Pool) @rookie__rae

Nevada has joined a coalition of 18 states and territories in a federal lawsuit to block the U.S. Department of Education's new Title IX mandate, which Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office said could weaken protections for survivors of sexual violence and lead to increased underreporting of sexual harassment and violence on college campuses.

The new Title IX mandate came as part of a federal regulatory change proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The changes were designed to ensure fair treatment for victims and those accused of sexual misconduct, as well as address fears that students who were falsely accused had their lives ruined unjustly. Still, the mandate has drawn criticism from educators, students and lawmakers around the country. 

"Title IX is a landmark law that for almost 30 years has required schools with federal funding to provide students with an educational environment free from sexual harassment," Ford, a Democrat, said in the press release. "Sexual harassment can have no place in our schools, and the State of Nevada is proud to be a part of this fight. As we mourn the passing of Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, a stalwart vote for gender equality in schools, I am honored to continue this fight in her memory." 

The new Title IX rule narrows the definition of sexual harassment and raises the burden of proof for accusations, among other changes. 

Critics, including student leaders and the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents, said they fear the new law will prevent victims of sexual violence from reporting.

"I, along with NSHE's campus presidents, feel strongly that these changes to Title IX are a step backwards towards maintaining open, inclusive, respectful, safe, and secure campuses," Chancellor Melody Rose said in a press release from the NSHE. 

To ensure higher education institutions in Nevada could receive federal funding, including money for student financial aid, the Board of Regents adopted the mandated Title IX regulations on Aug. 7 but authorized support for participating in the lawsuit during a meeting on Aug. 21.

"The Board of Regents is prepared to take all necessary action to protect our students, faculty, and staff. We will continue to provide support and implement necessary policies that extend beyond the new federal regulations in order to ensure appropriate responses to all allegations of sexual harassment and assault," said Board of Regents Chair Mark Doubrava in the press release.

Dominique Hall, student body president of the University of Nevada, Reno, said the Title IX changes would dissuade sexual assault and harassment victims from speaking out and applauded the attorney general's decision to join the lawsuit.

"To all the @NSHE students who helped spread the word and give public comment about their concern about the new federal Title IX policies, this wouldn't have been done without you," Hall tweeted on Monday. "Thanks to @AaronDFordNV & our regents for this lawsuit and for listening to #Survivors like myself!"

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