The Education Department under President Trump is considering reversing some moves by the previous administration to hold colleges and universities accountable for responsibly addressing sexual assault on campus. It's all up to Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, who met with advocates of survivors of sexual assault, advocates of the accused, and also school administrators before deciding what she will do. In order to help her decide, 114 sexual assault survivors wrote to DeVos, explaining the need for enforcement of Title IX in an open letter published by Teen Vogue.
The letter begins by explaining a problem that's existed since activism around sexual assault began on these campuses. When it comes down to it, sexual assault survivors shouldn't have to ask institutions to side with them. It says:
As survivors of sexual violence, we’ve continually had to advocate for ourselves, often because no one would advocate for us. We have been forced to ask this question again and again, of all the institutions that are supposed to serve us: of our Title IX administrators, police officers, schools, teachers, deans, and now, our government. This is not a philosophical or academic question regarding the responsibilities of higher education administration. It drastically impacts our and our peers’ lives — and now we must pose it to the highest offices in the country.
The Trump administration's behavior hasn't proved promising to sexual assault survivors. Most recently, the Education Department's civil rights head showed her true colors on Wednesday in an interview in The New York Times. Candice Jackson implied that some 90 percent of sexual assaults on campus are not legitimate — that they "fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.'" That statement alone suggests that rape culture has even reached the Education Department. Jackson has since apologized.
On Thursday, sexual assault survivors had the ability to speak with DeVos about their experience — but they had to split the time equally with groups that represent the rights of the accused. Naturally, survivor advocates say it's incredibly unfair to give the accused equal time, especially considering that only between two and 10 percent of assault claims on campus are untrue.
So, it makes sense that the 114 survivors asked DeVos, "exactly who are you here to serve?” They reminded the secretary that they've been victims of not just the aggressors but also of a system that prioritizes the universities' reputations and bottom lines over justice.
"We remind the Trump Administration that we, students and those who have suffered violence, are those the Department of Education is directed to serve — not college lawyers on a university payroll," the survivors wrote. "Survivors simply want the protections to remain in schools that the federal government and courts have institutionalized over the last four decades."
In the letter's final lines, the survivors reach out to others to let them know they're there for them. And as they suggest, the fight to end rape culture is far from over.
To Betsy DeVos, President Trump and the rest of the Trump administration: Survivors of sexual assault have refused to be silent since this administration began its journey to the White House. We will not be silenced now. And to survivors of sexual assault everywhere: We believe you. We support you. You are not alone.
DeVos, Jackson, and their colleagues need to learn to listen to the most important voices in this debate — those of the survivors themselves. It's good to know that whether DeVos chooses to listen to them or not, their voices won't be silenced.
You can help amplify their voices. Call the Education Department and let them know you support these 114 survivors and so many more.