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100,000 Survivors and Allies Tell Betsy DeVos: Hands off Title IX

Yesterday, students and advocates delivered over 100,000 petition signatures calling on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to enforce Title IX, a civil rights law protecting student survivors of sexual violence. DeVos is expected to announce plans to roll back Title IX enforcement later today, putting student rape survivors at risk.

Survivors advocates have been sounding the alarm about DeVos’ hostility to Title IX for months. She has refused to say she’d maintain the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, a document outlining student sexual assault survivors’ rights under federal law. In July, DeVos held a summit on Title IX and campus sexual violence — in which she consulted men’s rights activists best known for viciously harassing rape survivors, fabricating lies about how sexual assault is overreported (in reality, the vast majority of survivors never come forward), and blaming women for domestic violence. Candice Jackson, the Education Department’s top civil rights official, has spread the kinds of dangerous, misogynistic rape myths that survivors have been fighting for decades and suggested the administration will go back to covering up which colleges violate rape survivors’ rights.

DeVos and Trump — a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women — are about to make it even easier for predatory men like him to do the same thing.

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Title IX advocates unfurl a banner outside the US Education Department

But survivors are fighting back. Yesterday afternoon, students and advocates led by the National Women’s Law Center, Know Your IX (with which I organize), End Rape on Campus, and the American Association of University Women turned out in the rain to deliver 100,000-plus petition signatures from students and allies calling on DeVos to stand with survivors, do her job, and enforce the law.

Faith Ferber, a senior at American University who helped deliver petitions to the Education Department today, told me she joined the protest because the Title IX guidance helped her get “the accommodations and support I needed to succeed in school in the aftermath of a sexual assault.” She added, “If I had to constantly worry about my perpetrator contacting me or my professors being inflexible with deadlines, I wouldn’t have been able to successfully handle it all.”

She’s not alone. Title IX, a decades old civil rights law, requires schools to “promptly and equitably” address sexual harassment (including sexual assault and rape) on campus because it’s a huge barrier to equal educational opportunity. When students are assaulted, they often see their grades drop, struggle with PTSD, or have to drop classes they share with a perpetrator. Without support from their schools, many survivors have to take leaves of absence, transfer, or even drop out entirely. That’s why Title IX requires schools to investigate reports of sexual violence and give student survivors accommodations they need to continue their education — support that schools are uniquely positioned to provide, like being moved into a different dorm so they don’t live in the same building as their rapists, or an extension on a paper due the week after an assault.

Tomorrow’s announcement could put that at risk. If DeVos sends the signal that the Education Department will turn a blind eye to gender violence on campus, schools may try to return to the days when schools swept sexual violence under the rug, or told survivors to leave school and come back after their rapist graduated.

But here’s the thing: those 100,000 survivors and advocates aren’t going away, and neither is Title IX. Survivors’ rights, and schools’ obligations to prevent and address gender violence, don’t stem from actions taken by any administration — they stem from from federal civil rights laws themselves. That means schools have a legal obligation to take sexual violence seriously. If they don’t, survivors will take them to court.

No matter what DeVos says, the law is the law. Student survivors are still protected by Title IX. And after years of fighting for our rights, we’re ready to do it again.

Fight back with us by joining Know Your IX’s Campus Action Network.

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, where she has led several state and federal campaigns for student survivors' civil rights. In the past, Sejal led LGBT rights campaigns for the Center for American Progress. Today, she is a student at Harvard Law School and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in schools.

Sejal Singh is a law student and columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

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