Co-authored with Alexandra Brodsky
A few years ago, when we were each sexually assaulted by a student on our campus, we had no idea that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments was about anything more than women's sports. We wish we had known at the time about our civil right to an education free from harassment and violence. With that knowledge, we could have stood up to our schools' cruel responses to the violence we reported.
In the winter of 2009, one of us was discouraged from filing a complaint within Yale's disciplinary system. She was told that her assailant's harassment was simply evidence of his love, and advised to tell no one to protect her "reputation." Less than two years later, nearly 100 miles away at Amherst, the other of us was told to take time off and go home in order to escape her rapist's continued harassment and stalking. A class dean refused to provide her any information about pursuing disciplinary action, instead urging her to "get a job at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, and come back after he's graduated."
By sheer chance -- through a term paper and a lawyer friend -- we both learned about Title IX and realized that our colleges' actions were not only unethical but also illegal. Title IX guarantees students' civil right to an education unimpeded by violence and harassment. It requires schools to ensure their students' safety and equal access to education by taking steps to prevent sexual violence and, when these measures fail, by providing thorough and fair grievance procedures, as well as housing, employment, and academic accommodations, for all survivors.
Our colleges unabashedly took advantage of our ignorance of our Title IX rights -- and this past year's headlines suggest that our experiences are not unique.
Amherst College forced survivor Angie Epifano into a psychiatric ward, forbade her from studying abroad and writing a senior year thesis, and ultimately left her no option but to withdraw from the College. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Landen Gambill faced retaliation for demanding justice. The same school blamed Annie Clark for her assault, comparing rape to a football game. Northwestern coerced Lauren Buxbaum into taking a medical leave, and Olivia Hansen was forced to withdraw from Rice University. Harvard students found that the school consistently prioritized assailants' interests over survivors'.
Campus sexual violence is a national problem, and it's going to take a national activist effort to effect change. Along with UNC activists Clark and Andrea Pino, we've been growing a national underground, online activist network for student and young alumni survivors and allies. Now, we've developed Know Your IX, a campaign to educate every college student in the U.S. about his or her rights under Title IX by the start of the Fall 2013 academic term.
When we reported to our colleges, we knew that we were treated cruelly, but without legal knowledge, we didn't know we could demand better. Students who "know their IX" will be able to stand up for themselves during reporting processes and, if necessary, expose their schools' failures through activist interventions and legal complaints. In response, schools will have to shape up by changing their approach to reported violence and taking more proactive steps to stop abuse before it ever occurs.
Before we can launch, though, we need your help. We plan to develop an extensive website with Title IX resources, implement an intensive social media campaign, and place full-page educational ads in college newspapers -- and for those things, we need money. If you'd like to support our efforts, please learn more at our Indiegogo page. You can also help spread the word by checking us out on Facebook and Twitter.
No one should be deprived of a full education because of campus sexual violence. With your help, we can make sure that by Fall 2013 we all know our IX.
Dana Bolger is an Amherst College senior majoring in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought. She is co-founder and co-editor of It Happens Here, a student publication about sexual violence at Amherst. You can find her on Twitter at @danabolger and @ItHappensHereAC.