I would describe this week as an intense dichotomy of difference-making work and completely shocking disappointment. I am a peer educator in prevention education, and as a senior who has done this work before, I am working with another student and professional advocates to construct our curriculum for this year’s new students. I was so honored that I was deemed suitable by these women who I’ve looked up to and respected in their previous role on our campus, but also uncertain I deserved it. Our campus is undergoing a serious change in the prevention education office, the head of which has moved on to what I know will be an amazing new opportunity. That unexpected transition has been difficult for me and other involved students. We owe our purpose, and in my case, so much development and growth to her encouragement, validation, and example. While it is a hard thing to lose that influence on my campus, I’m now seeing all the ways this pushes me to do more and to expand past my comfort zone to make sure no gaps are left in her absence.
That being said, on Friday I woke up to see that Betsy Devos’ had rescinded the directives of the federal government which has spurred so much campus evolution toward proactive support for survivors and repercussions for perpetrators of assault on campuses. I have been paying attention to this story both as someone involved in prevention and as a reporter covering it for a paper on a campus with no permanent Title IX director. There are amazing individuals doing that job here, but the reversal of intent by the federal government is significant where grants and defending continued programming initiatives is concerned. I am not so worried about this on my campus, but for students at state schools, many of whom are friends, this is not just paperwork.
I never want my friends or any student to need to seek help through Title IX reporting, but at state schools where perpetrators have historically remained entirely unpunished while their victims suffer and often leave school, this is the most important thing. Governmental support is so important for advocates attempting to defend the rights of those affected by sexual assault on campuses. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center statistics, one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. We know that 4% of cisgender men report, and the numbers are significantly higher for racial minorities and members of the LGBTQ population. It’s important to remember that these statistics are underestimations specifically because of the way the reporting process has functioned. We have seen the effects of reform in recent years as the numbers have gone up. That does not mean there are more assaults—it means there is more trust in the system.
All that work is put at risk when irresponsible, uninformed individuals like Devos are allowed to make national decisions. The Education Secretary’s “comment period” lasted one day, which only demonstrates her lack of self-awareness and complete ignorance. The unfounded claims of high false reporting Devos cites as a motivation for her decision are often based on data from victims who recant after being intimidated by officials or peers. While we as advocates and survivors do not have a voice in her office (don’t think Ivanka has our back, she does not), we have to use this to create new advocates for now and the future. I am taking this anger to my work rather than to a ball in my bed as was my instinct Friday morning. For every comment and dismissal from the national level, I will put twice the effort into my work. We have information, educate yourself and share it with those you know. You don’t need an amazing motivational speech; you have the numbers and they are too damn high. Use them, talk to your friends and your family. They are parents, siblings, potential victims and if you keep reminding the people in your life that this will affect them, there is a good chance they’ll listen. Devos has an expiration date, and though I’d argue she was rotten from the start, all of us willing to help fight for survivor rights and the right of all students to experience the full college experience without fear of assault, will be here when she’s thrown out.
For more of the NSVRC data and guidelines for having conversations about assault, visit nsvrc.org.