March 31, 2017
United States Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-0001
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
Dear Secretary DeVos and Attorney General Sessions,
As students, faculty members, and advocates for survivors across the country, we strive each day to reduce instances of gender-based violence, yet the number of students who experience violence is still too high. Because it is our collective responsibility to work toward creating communities that will support survivors of violence, we urge you to strongly enforce Title IX, the federal law that outlaws sex discrimination in education, during your time in office.
Gender-based violence affects students across the country daily, whether they are receiving a friend’s tearful phone call, sitting down with a peer trying to navigate what happened to them, or recounting personal stories. Over the past five years, student activists have used their rights under Title IX to transform how schools and the federal government address gender-based violence.
However, despite the progress we have made, violence continues to imperil students’ access to education. Of college undergraduates in the United States, an estimated 24 percent of trans and gender nonconforming students, 23 percent of cisgender women, and 5.4 percent of cisgender men are sexually assaulted. These statistics carry over to graduate school, where a similar percentage of students are sexually assaulted and over a third of female graduate students are sexually harassed. And perhaps most alarming, many K-12 students experience gender-based violence, with studies finding that 10 percent of female high school students experienced sexual violence in the last year.,
This violence can have devastating consequences. In the wake of an assault, survivors may withdraw from their education and struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Without support and accommodations, survivors may see their grades plummet or drop out of school entirely, forfeiting thousands of dollars in tuition.
No student should experience gender-based violence, nor should schools ignore threats to a student’s safety or ability to learn. We will not rest until the rights and protections of all students, especially survivors of gender-based violence, are guaranteed. Accordingly, we urge you to commit to the following principles that we have found most critical in our activism:
ENFORCE TITLE IX’S PROTECTIONS FOR ALL SURVIVORS
● Ensure that schools adopt gender-inclusive definitions of gender-based violence so all students, regardless of their gender identity or the gender identity of their perpetrator(s), feel comfortable reporting to the institution.
● Explicitly recognize that Title IX prohibits transphobia (and other discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression) as a form of sex discrimination. Trans and gender nonconforming students should not be denied access to any facility — including bathrooms and dorm rooms — on account of their gender identity.
● Recognize that harassment and coercion take many forms, including targeting individuals based on their immigration status (such as threatening to report an undocumented survivor to immigration enforcement authorities), threatening to “out” someone as queer or trans, and purposefully using incorrect gender pronouns (or otherwise misgendering someone).
ACTIVELY IMPLEMENT PREVENTION MEASURES FOR GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
● Implement mandatory yearly trainings for all students to educate them about their Title IX rights and address rape culture on campus.
● Ensure all faculty, staff, and administrators are trained in gender-based violence prevention and Title IX procedures.
● Widely distribute understandable information about the school’s gender-based violence policy and related resources.
ENSURE SURVIVORS CAN ACCESS ACCOMMODATIONS
● Provide ongoing, free counseling to students who experience gender-based violence. Students should be able to access this without filing a formal complaint.
● Provide students with free medical attention for health problems stemming from gender-based violence, including STI testing, emergency contraception, and treatment for injuries.
● Grant students who have experienced gender-based violence academic accommodations, including excusing class absences, extending assignment deadlines, providing notetaking services, and allowing incompletes/course retakes at no penalty (which means fully reimbursing tuition, room, and board for an incomplete semester), regardless of whether or not the student files a formal complaint.
● Help international students who need to take time off as a result of experiencing gender-based violence secure local living arrangements during their time off, especially if the student is from a country explicitly targeted in Executive Orders that could prevent them from re-entering the U.S.
● Guarantee immediate safety accommodations, including moving a respondent’s housing (and a complainant’s housing, if the complainant wishes) at no cost, granting and enforcing no-contact directives, moving a respondent out of classes shared with the complainant, and potentially enacting other measures such as adding additional door locks or security cameras free of charge, regardless of whether or not the student files a formal complaint.
● Prioritize minimizing all accommodation burdens on the complainant.
● Ensure the school has a designated Title IX coordinator who does not have other jobs that could pose a conflict of interest.
UPHOLD FAIR PROCESS FOR ALL STUDENTS
● Continue to recognize preponderance of the evidence as the appropriate standard of proof in campus gender-based violence adjudications.
● Reiterate that schools should not force survivors to “work it out” with their perpetrator in mediation proceedings.
● Ensure survivors are not punished for violations of school policies, including (but not limited to) drug/alcohol policies and celibacy honor codes, when they report an assault.
● Investigate all complaints of violence, discrimination, and harassment committed on campus or involving a student, faculty, or staff member; these investigations should remain completely independent from law enforcement as to protect Black students and students of color, undocumented students, trans students, and others who are vulnerable to state violence.
● Hire an adequate number of staff members who deal with gender-based violence on campus so complainants and respondents are never assigned the same case manager.
● Ensure investigations in gender-based violence cases are prompt (completed within 60 days), thorough, and unbiased.
● Establish a clear process for reporting conflicts of interest at any level of the investigative process; this reporting process must include review by an unbiased third party.
● Give all staff members involved in investigating and adjudicating gender-based violence cases training in cultural competency so they can adequately address the needs of Black students and students of color, queer and trans students, students with disabilities, undocumented students, low-income students, and all others who are at a higher risk for experiencing violence.
● Ensure all students involved in the school gender-based violence process are granted the same rights as other students involved in the process (e.g. right to an advisor).
● Provide students with the option of having a no-cost attorney-advisor during the school gender-based violence process so all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have equal access to legal support.
● Allow students to maintain a full and fair record of gender-based violence investigations and proceedings, including audio recordings if necessary.
● Release anonymized data each semester stating how many cases have been heard, what judgement was reached in each case, and what sanctions were implemented, in order to ensure that investigatory bodies are held accountable for prompt investigations and proportional sanctions.
● Ensure a third-party appeals process for students whose cases have potentially been mishandled.
INCREASE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS (OCR)
● Maintain retaliation prohibitions that protect survivors, student activists and journalists, federal and civil Title IX complainants, and those taking part in campus gender-based violence proceedings.
● Publicly commit to protecting undocumented students who file Title IX complaints with OCR so they do not have to fear doing so would lead to their deportation; OCR should remain completely separate from government agencies that enforce immigration laws and be prevented from sharing information about a student’s citizenship status with other parties.
● Increase OCR’s budget and staffing so all Title IX complaints can be fully investigated and resolved within 180 days.
We hope we can count on you to protect the rights of students and enforce Title IX.
Thank you for your time.
Advocates for Choice (Knox College)
Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault (Pomona College)
African Students Association (Columbia University)
Ali Forney Center
Alliance for Peaceful Action (Knox College)
Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (Babson College)
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. (Duke University)
The American Association of University Women at GW (George Washington University)
Amnesty International (Columbia University)
Asian American Alliance (Columbia University)
Asian Political Collective (Columbia University)
Asian Women’s Shelter
ASUSD Office of Advocacy & Student Representation (University of California–Davis)
Barnard Center for Research on Women (Barnard College)
Barnard Columbia Socialists (Columbia University)
Bay Area Girls Rock Camp
The Body Positive
Carleton Student Association Senate–Title IX Working Group (Carleton College)
Coalition to End Rape Culture (University of Massachusetts–Amherst)
College Democrats (University of Kentucky)
Columbia Against Trump (Columbia University)
Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace (Columbia University)
Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (Columbia University)
Columbia If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice (Columbia University)
Columbia Law Feminist Society (Columbia University)
Columbia Law Sexual Respect Initiative (Columbia University)
Columbia Q&A (Columbia University)
Columbia Queer Alliance (Columbia University)
CU Democrats (Columbia University)
Consent is Key (California State University–Fullerton)
Defined Lines (University of Tennessee–Chattanooga)
Divest Barnard (Barnard College)
End Rape on Campus
Every1 Campaign (Cornell University)
The Feminist Collective (Case Western Reserve University)
Feminist Student Organization (George Mason University)
Feminists in Action (Louisiana State University)
Gender Violence Legal Policy Workshop (Harvard University)
Georgetown Take Back the Night (Georgetown University)
GW Students Against Sexual Assault (George Washington University)
GWC-UAW Local 2110 Graduate Workers of Columbia (Columbia University)
Greeks Against Sexual Assault (University of California–Berkeley)
Harvard Law School Harassment Assault Law-Student Team (Harvard University)
HeForShe (Columbia University)
HeForShe (Santa Clara University)
In Our Own Voices
Know Your IX
LGBT Books to Prisoners
LGBT National Help Center
Louisiana Trans Advocates
The Make It Safe Project
Matthew Shepard Foundation
Mobilized African Diaspora (Columbia University)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
The National Women’s Political Caucus
New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
No Red Tape Columbia (Columbia University)
Not On My Campus (University of Alabama)
One Billion Rising
Our Harvard Can Do Better (Harvard University)
Peer Advocacy for Sexual Health (Duke University)
Proud Colors (Columbia University)
Queer Detainee Empowerment Project
The Queer Project (University of Kentucky)
Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence
Sanctuary for Families
Scripps Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault (Scripps College)
Sexual Assault and Violence Educators (Case Western Reserve University)
Sexual Violence Awareness Club (Bates College)
Society for the Advancement of Gender Equity (Iowa State University)
South Asian Feminism(s) Alliance (Columbia University)
Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation Anti-Violence Project
Stand Up For Graduate Student Employees (Brown University)
Stop Sexual Assault in Schools
Straight But Not Narrow
Student-Worker Solidarity (Columbia University)
Students Against Sexism in Society (Knox College)
Students for Justice in Palestine (Columbia University)
Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture
Trans Youth Equality Foundation
UConn Graduate Employee Union–UAW Local 6950 (University of Connecticut)
UK Colonel Student Satire Paper
UK Feminist Alliance (University of Kentucky)
Undocu (Columbia University)
V-Day (California State University–Northridge)
Vanderbilt Feminists (Vanderbilt University)
We Are Here Duke (Duke University)
We Are Watching (University of Pennsylvania)
We Stand For (University of Notre Dame)
Westmont Feminist Society (Westmont College)
Women Against Rape and Sexual Assault (University of Hartford)
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