This is a guest post from Dana Bolger, Amherst College, 2014 and Alexandra Brodsky, Yale College, 2012, Yale Law School, 2016.
Pop quiz: Survivors of sexual violence on college campuses have the right to:
- A) Demand that their assailant be moved out of their dorm, job, and classes
- B) File a complaint against their assailant within their school’s disciplinary court
- C) Receive counseling and academic support services from their universities
- D) All of the above
Answer: All of the above. These rights come straight out of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that most people know only as the law that governs women’s sports.
The truth is that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments—strengthened by Vice President Biden’s Dear Colleague clarifying letter—guarantees students’ civil right to education unimpeded by discrimination, including violence and harassment. It’s a powerful but underutilized tool for creating safer schools.
Unfortunately, too many survivors don’t know their Title IX rights. That’s why we’re launching Know Your IX, a campaign that aims to educate every student in the U.S. about his or her rights—and what actions to take if they’re being violated.
Last week, we debuted our Know Your IX fundraiser. This summer, we’ll launch an information-rich website, followed by an extensive social media campaign to disseminate that information virally. During the first week of classes next fall, we’ll place full-page educational ads in college papers across the country. By the time next semester is in full gear, college students will know their rights and how to hold their schools accountable.
Armed with knowledge, students will be able to insist that their schools take active steps to stop sexual violence before it occurs, and, if those programs fail, will be prepared to stand up for themselves during disciplinary procedures. Too often schools have dissuaded survivors from making reports; with Know Your IX, students will know to cite Title IX’s prohibition on such administrative abuse. In the face of an informed campus, colleges will have to shape up.
Title IX can also be harnessed for activist agitation for university reform. In 2011, when one of us was a junior at Yale, the college’s deliberate indifference in the face of rampant campus sexual violence and harassment was too much to ignore. A team of students and alumni came together to file a Title IX complaint against the school. With the support of a generous pro bono lawyer, the group collected personal testimony and wrote up recent campus events to demonstrate all the ways Yale was out of compliance with federal law.
Based on the complaint, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights decided to investigate Yale, and discovered the extent of the administration’s efforts to keep survivors silent, the opacity of reporting procedures, and the incompetence of those charged with addressing violence. Yale still has a lot of work to do, but thanks to the OCR, it has completely revamped its grievance board and must stay on its toes to avoid referral to the Department of Justice.
An official Title IX complaint, though, isn’t the only way to use the law to change your campus. Our partners at Amherst have centered the campus campaign on personal narratives—most notably Angie Epifano’s—that exposed the school’s legal failure in an emotionally compelling form. While activists are still pushing the administration to make meaningful change, the public demonstration of Title IX violations was enough to spur Amherst to action.
Have you used Title IX to effect change on your campus? Reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter, check out our Indiegogo, and help us spread the word about students’ rights. As students, we have a powerful legal tool at our disposal. Let’s use it.