Nine in ten college victims know their attackers.
Sexual assault is an all-too-prevalent problem on college campuses in the United States. And far too many survivors do not know they have a right to an education free from harassment and violence.
Under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, mostly known for its important role in women's sports, a college that receives federal funds can be held legally responsible when it knows about and ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs or activities.
Across the country, college activists have begun to demand their Title IX rights to protection from sexual assault and harassment on campus. Students at Amherst College, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Yale University, Occidental College, Northwestern University, and Rice University have shared their experiences with administrative neglect, disregard, and abuse after reporting sexual harassment and assaults. Some students were pressured not to report the crime; others were told to take time off from school until their attacker could graduate. One by one, as these students learned of their Title IX rights, they began to file formal complaints with the federal government. Each new complaint inspired activists on another college campus to get involved, and soon a collective of activists was formed. "Know Your IX" is a collective campaign by students and young alumni who have successfully campaigned against their colleges’ inadequate responses to campus sexual violence. They have set an ambitious goal of educating all college students about their rights under Title IX by the start of the next academic year.
AT: Do you plan to target a specific type of school (for example, more elite private institutions like Yale, Amherst, etc. or public universities) for your campaign?
AB: There is a lot of anti-violence activism going on around the country that you're not hearing about. The movement has been very media-driven, not just because it can put pressure on school administrations but also because it helped connect us. The truth is the media likes to cover a particular type of survivor: white, ostensibly straight, and from a big-name school. I don't want to erase the work of our partners who don't fit that profile and are still making headlines, but people like Dana and me are getting a disproportionate amount of attention. We need to not just include marginalized experiences but centralize those [in our campaign] by incorporating a general anti-oppression approach.
AT: What is the first step students who are interested in organizing around sexual assault on their campus should take?
AB: That's a hard question to answer because the point at which [each student] arrives at the need to act is different. At Yale there had been a few high-profile incidents, so it was important to collect a wide range of stories stories. But generally, two very important first steps are getting input from many survivors and formulating a list of specific grievances.
DB: At Amherst it was the opposite. One thing that was very important for us was just meeting each other. We formed a survivors' group — a sort of consciousness-raising group, where he heard each other’s stories. Also, it's important to record everything as it's happening: what the administration is saying, survivors' stories. If you have all of that down, you can decide what to do with it.
This needs to be built into your strategy as organizers, to raise consciousness in your community. For example, a fraternity at Amherst made an offensive shirt during spring quarter. In the fall we finally wrote a piece about it, and that received a lot of attention. It's easy as organizers to forget that you have knowledge that not everyone is privy to. Sharing that information is vital.
AT: Should raising sexual assault awareness on campuses be carried out by survivors alone? What role should other concerned individuals take?
AB: I think it's very important to include allies. Not all of the signatories on our complaint were survivors, because just knowing that you're at risk, or having to face your friend's rapist on campus, can affect you. But as with any social justice issue, you want the movement to be shaped and led by the people most affected. The sexual violence movement has often been co-opted by conservative groups for racist and sexist ends. It's important to make sure your work can't be used in that way.
AT: Has coming forward nationally about your experiences with sexual harassment and assault been empowering? Please share some of the great things you've experienced since coming forward. What struggles have you faced?
DB: Coming forward nationally has contributed to some of our successes creating policy changes on campus [at Amherst]. These institutions are corporations; their main motivation is to stay profitable, so public scrutiny really puts pressure on schools to shape up. We're still waiting for more changes and it's a little too soon to tell how they will be implemented. That's one reason why maintaining national attention is critical.
AB: There are times when it feels very personally empowering because so much of what we're trying to combat is the silencing of survivors. That being said, it also means that by doing this work you're reminding yourself of [your experience with sexual harassment or sexual assault] every single day, in a way that you wouldn't otherwise.
DB: One thing that has been very personally moving is watching how when one survivor comes out now, many more are beginning to come out. For example, at Occidental College ten or so survivors came out about their stories on TV. I couldn't have imagined that a year ago.
AB: I think Angie Epifano's personal account of her treatment at Amherst was a watershed moment.
Alexandra and Dana are just two of the many young women and men on college campuses around the United States organizing around sexual assault and violence at institutions of higher education.
"Know Your IX" is already on its way towards educating every college student in the U.S. about his or her rights under Title IX by the start of the next academic term. Their educational campaign will include: an extensive website with fact sheets about students' rights under Title IX and the complaint process; an extensive social media campaign to make knowledge about Title IX "go viral"; and full page advertisements in college newspapers across the country during the first week of fall semester.
The collective has started an online fundraiser to mobilize grassroots financial support for their campaign, but they need allies on college campuses who will spark change in their own communities. How will you work to end sexual violence on your campus?