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Want Colleges to Protect Students From Sexual Assault? Take Action to Give Title IX Teeth

Protest at Amherst College

Photo by Jisoo Lee

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to be partnering with Know Your IX to demand appropriate consequences for colleges that fail to address sexual assault and rape on their campuses. We’re publishing this piece by Alexandra Brodsky and Dana Bolger of Know Your IX to give our readers a chance to find out more about this vital campaign.

Last July, members of Know Your IX were busy preparing for our national protest to pressure the Department of Education to hold colleges accountable for how they handle campus sexual assault. As we put the finishing touches on posters and chant sheets, two organizers got to chatting about school administrators. Wagatwe Wanjuki and John Kelly realized that they had both been raped at Tufts University, six years apart. Both had turned to the school for help; in both cases, the school failed to support and protect them. And both, they discovered, had felt the brunt of this institutional betrayal from the very same dean. He had been at the center of Wanjuki’s complaint half a decade before and still, as Kelly experienced firsthand in 2013, he continued to deny students not only basic respect and empathy but also their civil rights.

You’d think the university would have gotten it right by now.

Know Your IX is a national survivor-run campaign to end campus sexual violence by educating students about their Title IX rights and empowering them to hold their universities accountable for violations of the civil rights law. Many people think Title IX is just about women’s sports, but in fact it prohibits all forms of gender discrimination in education, including sexual violence and harassment. As part of their Title IX responsibilities, schools that receive any federal funding must actively combat gender-based violence and respond when students of any gender are harmed. When they don’t, they deny survivors access to the full range of educational opportunities available to their peers: as many survivors can attest, it’s impossible to pursue a full range of educational opportunities when you’re studying, eating and sleeping on the same campus as your rapist.

Yet despite the promise of Title IX, student survivors’ experiences—and federal complaints—indicate that few schools respect students’ rights.

Sexual assault on college campuses has dominated the news as of late, as outlets from The Nation to The New York Times examine the crisis and United States senators hold roundtables and hearings to discuss it. The current national outcry over campus sexual violence may be new, but the violence itself isn’t—and the Department of Education knows that. This isn’t the first time that many of the schools currently under investigation for Title IX violations by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights are facing scrutiny. The OCR has investigated several universities, including Tufts, multiple times in the last decade alone.

Fortunately, the federal government is beginning to recognize what students have known for too long: investigations alone won’t spur schools to make real changes. We’re heartened by the department’s new efforts to give Title IX teeth. For example, in response to student demonstrations like our protest last year, this spring the OCR published a list of the dozens of colleges and universities currently under investigation for Title IX violations—an unprecedented move on the agency’s part and an important first step to hit universities where it hurts: their reputations.

But we can’t stop there. A major reason Title IX hasn’t been effective in ending campus sexual violence is that school administrators know the Department of Education doesn’t hold schools accountable for violating the law: in its entire history, the OCR has never sanctioned a school for sexual assault-related violations. Instead, even when the government exposes terrible abuses, it gives schools second (and third, and fourth) chances to improve—with devastating consequences for students like John, who suffer assaults at schools where students have been complaining about policies and administrators for years. Just as campus rapists have perpetrated violence while confident their schools will never hold them accountable, so too do universities flout their legal responsibilities without fear of repercussions.

This needs to change. Unfortunately, the OCR has only one tool expressly at its disposal to sanction schools: the complete removal of federal funds. This measure is far too blunt an instrument, and would hurt the very students it means to help by drying up financial aid and educational opportunities—perhaps why, in part, the department has been reluctant to issue formal findings of noncompliance in the first place.

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That’s why Know Your IX and our partners ask that Congress provide the OCR with the explicit authority to levy fines against schools in violation of Title IX. These sanctions would send a clear message to schools (and the country) that their institutional violence and civil rights violations won’t be tolerated. While the fines alone might not convince a school to change—and while they should not be so onerous that they harm current students—the resulting headlines, read by prospective students and alumni donors across the country, will be unambiguous; in the prestige game of American academia, a rape fine would deal a deep blow.

We wish we lived in a country where we could appeal to schools’ moral compasses—but US colleges and universities have proven time and again that they won’t take sexual violence, and equal access to education for all students, seriously, until they have more at stake. We need to speak to them in the twin languages they understand: money and reputation. Armed with the power to levy fines, the OCR could ensure that it is more expensive for schools to violate survivors’ rights than to respect them.

Now is our opportunity. Senators Claire McCaskill, Kirsten Gillibrand and Richard Blumenthal are looking to introduce legislation this fall to combat campus sexual violence. They know, as we do, that the OCR needs more tools at its disposal. And they’ve already held a series of roundtables to discuss, among other reforms, the possibility of issuing legislation granting the OCR fining authority. Join Know Your IX and The Nation in calling on Congress to fight to make Title IX’s forty-two-year-old promise a reality.

Here’s Something Patriotic You’ll Want to Support

President Obama and solar panels

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden tour the roof of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science with Blake Jones, CEO and President of Namaste Solar, to view the museum's solar panel installation. (AP Photo/Pool, Darin McGregor)

In the early 1940s, faced with the destruction wrought by the Great Depression and a brewing world war, the United States government established the Victory Bonds program. Through the creation of affordable government-backed bonds, the program gave Americans of modest means the chance to invest in their country during crises that called for immediate action.

Today, the fight against climate change demands that same urgency. That’s why The Nation is joining Green America in calling on Congress to pass a bill creating Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB).

Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, CEVBs will allow any American to invest as little as $25. Advocates for the bill expect the sale of the bonds to raise up to $50 billion, which will then leverage an additional $100 billion from private and public investors. The money raised would fund essential tax credits to renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as companies specializing in energy-efficiency. These investments have the potential to lessen the demand for fossil fuels, reduce the amount of CO2 poured into the atmosphere, and create one million good US jobs.

TO DO

This July 4th weekend, show your patriotism by joining Green America and The Nation in calling on Congress to pass the Clean Energy Victory Bond Act of 2014.

TO READ

Truly addressing climate change cannot happen just through investments in clean energy; as Chris Hayes pointed out in an essay for The Nation this spring, we can only avert planetary disaster if we leave destructive sources of energy in the ground—and if we force fossil fuel companies to forgo trillions of dollars in profits.

TO WATCH

Earlier this spring, members of the Yes Men joined with indigenous activists to demonstrate what a truly bold energy policy would look like. Posing as US government officials, they spoke at the Homeland Security Congress, announcing a plan to convert the United States to one-hundred percent renewable energy by 2030. The activists then went on Democracy Now! to discuss their prank.

Tell President Obama: No Military Force in Iraq

Iraqi funeral

An Iraqi mourner waves an old flag of Iraq during the funerals of victims killed in clashes with security forces in Falluja, January 26, 2013. (Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)

As Iraq suffers again from bloody sectarian conflict and potential civil war, many of the same pundits and politicians who supported the US invasion in 2003 are now advocating for military intervention once again. This is the wrong response. As Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in her column for The Washington Post, “We learned in 2003 that when we move in with guns blazing, we tend to spark a lot more fires than we extinguish. In 2014, we cannot afford to learn this same lesson.”

There have been numerous reports that President Obama is considering military involvement in Iraq. Even if limited to airstrikes, military action would inflame sectarian divisions in the country and that would almost certainly kill civilians.

TO DO

Join The Nation, RootsAction and Iraq Veterans Against the War in calling on President Obama to refrain from using militarily force in Iraq.

TO READ

The Editors at The Nation make the case against military intervention.

TO WATCH

At Democracy Now!, Iraqi-American blogger Raed Jarrar discussed the history of US intervention in the region and explained how military force would only make the deteriorating situation worse.

Join Elizabeth Warren in Fighting the Student Loan Debt Crisis

Elizabeth Warren speaks about student loan debt

Elizabeth Warren speaks at the launch of the Higher Ed Not Debt campaign in Washington, DC, March 6, 2014. (Generation Progress/Layla Zaidane)

This morning, when President Obama announced his own executive action to give student loan borrowers some relief, the president also lent his support to the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act. The bill, introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren, would let graduates refinance their student loans, just as they are able to refinance their car loans or mortgages. For many borrowers, this change is critical; while students taking out new undergraduate loans now pay an interest rate of 3.86 percent, millions of students with outstanding debt are stuck paying nearly 7 percent. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) estimates that the bill would save borrowers a total of $14 billion.

With 40 million borrowers owing a total of $1 trillion, the student loan debt crisis is truly an emergency. While Warren’s bill is only a small step toward addressing the ever-mounting cost of higher education, its passage could make a real difference in the lives of students currently crushed under the weight of student loan debt.

TO DO

The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act is expected to come up for a vote on Wednesday, June 11. Join The Nation and AFT in calling on the Senate to give student loan borrowers some relief.

TO READ

Who exactly is gaining from the astronomical rise in student loan debt? In late May, Michelle Chen wrote about a study from the Debt and Society Project that detailed the massive profits Wall Street makes off of higher education. As Chen reports, between student loans and borrowing by institutions (often for amenities that have little to do with educating students), debt-related payments to the financial sector account for one tenth of all spending on higher education nationwide.

TO WATCH

To accompany the Debt and Society Project report, Dog Park Media released a video illustrating Wall Street’s “skim” off higher education and its contribution to the ever-rising cost of college.

Join the ‘Not One More’ Campaign to End Gun Violence

Richard Martinez

Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, speaks at a memorial service in honor of the victims of Friday's Isla Vista rampage in Santa Barbara, California. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

After his son, 20-year-old Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, was killed in the Santa Barbara shootings in late May, Richard Martinez shared a powerful message:

Today, I’m going to ask every person I can find to send a postcard to every politician they can think of with three words on it: “Not one more.” People are looking for something to do. I’m asking people to stand up for something. Enough is enough.

Shortly afterward, Everytown for Gun Safety launched a campaign allowing people to do just that. So far, over half a million people have answered the call.

TO DO

Join The Nation and Everytown for Gun Safety and tell your elected representatives that not one more person should die because of our broken gun laws. Everytown for Gun Safety will print and deliver a postcard to your senators, representative and governor.

TO READ

The shootings in Isla Vista have lead to conversations about much more than guns. At The Nation, Rebecca Solnit explored the ways in which the hashtag #YesAllWomen shed light on the “pandemic of hate toward and violence against women” that women experience every day.

TO WATCH

Martinez bravely spoke out just a day after his son was killed, condemning “craven” and “irresponsible” politicians and stating, “You talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live?”

Want To Do Something About Climate Change? Stop Cove Point

A protest against Cove Point

A protester speaks out against the Cove Point liquid natural gas export terminal (Susan Yin)

Earlier this spring, The Nation partnered with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) to call on President Obama to reject Cove Point. A proposed 3.8 billion liquid natural gas (LNG) export facility in southern Maryland, Cove Point would help keep the United States on the path to massively increased greenhouse gas emissions. While the president hasn’t addressed the project, a federal agency recently put out a call for public comments on Cove Point.

On May 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released an “Environmental Assessment” of Cove Point. While FERC states that the proposed plant would have no “significant” overall impacts on the environment, activists and outside scientists are vehemently disagreeing. The CCAN said that the report “defies basic facts and sweeps serious dangers under the rug” and criticized its failure to take into account the full scope of greenhouse gas emissions that would be triggered by the project or the huge incentive to expand fracking that the project represents. In its report, FERC even claimed that there is no proven and direct connection between Cove Point and fracking for gas despite the fact that a major Pennsylvania fracking company—Cabot Oil & Gas—has already signed a contract to ship billions of cubic feet of shale gas to Cove Point for export.

TO DO

It is obvious that FERC has listened to the gas industry; now let’s demand that they listen to us. Send a comment to the agency imploring it to deny Dominion’s application or, at the very minimum, conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement.

TO READ

In March of this year, Mark Hertsgaard explained why activists fighting against Keystone XL should also rally around stopping Cove Point.

TO WATCH

On The Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi tried to explain to a group of Pennsylvania residents the “benefits” of expanded fracking.

Why We All Need to Act to Save the Internet

Tom Wheeler visits Occupy the FCC

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler visits net neutrality activists camped out at the FCC. (PopularResistance.org)

UPDATE: This morning, the FCC voted to move forward with its controversial plan on net neutrality. The fight isn’t over yet, though. The agency will take public comments until July and then schedule a final vote. During this morning’s meeting, Chairman Wheeler stressed his commitment to the open Internet (although his proposed idea for how to go about that does not match up with activists’ demands) and stated that he left open the option to regulate the Internet as utility. Now it’s our job to keep up the pressure on the FCC to do the right thing.

The FCC is expected to vote today on rule changes that could force every web service that can’t pay expensive new fees into an Internet slow lane. The changes would mean the death of net neutrality—the concept that Internet service providers should not be able to discriminate between content.

After the rule changes were leaked in late April, activists and Internet users responded in droves. Hundreds of thousands of people e-mailed the FCC or signed petitions to demand that the agency protect the free and open Internet. Google, Netflix and nearly 150 other Internet companies signed a letter asking the FCC to reconsider its plan and, more recently, thirty-six members of Congress co-signed a letter in support of real net neutrality. Meanwhile, “Occupy the FCC” activists have been camping out at the agency’s DC headquarters for a week.

Today, in a national “Day of Action,” net neutrality advocates will stage a protest outside the FCC building in Washington, DC, as well as smaller protests at FCC offices across the country and numerous online actions. Democracy for America, reddit, the Future of Music Coalition, The Nation and many other organizations have all signed on to step up today in the fight for real net neutrality.

TO DO

There’s still time to protect the free and open Internet. Join The Nation and OpenMedia in calling on FCC commissioners to say “no” to dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes.

TO READ

Over at OpenMedia, Eva Prkachin broke down the far-reading effects of a two-tiered Internet. And here at The Nation, our own John Nichols pointed out that despite FCC claims that it is addressing activists’ concerns, only a full commitment to net neutrality coupled with a reclassification of broadband as a public utility can truly protect the free and open Internet.

TO WATCH

Free Press, a media reform organization at the forefront of the fight, breaks down the basics of net neutrality.

Keep a Reporter Out of Jail

The New York Times building

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has joined The Nation, RootsAction, the Center for Media and Democracy, FAIR, The Progressive and the Freedom of the Press Foundation to support James Risen, a reporter who has refused to divulge information about a confidential source.

The US government is insisting that Risen testify against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer who was accused of illegally leaking classified information that appeared in Risen’s book. Risen has said repeatedly that he won’t capitulate, a stance that could land him in jail. After all, as Ellsberg said, “without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”

The campaign is urgent. Just last month, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court not to take up Risen’s plea to hear his case and affirm a reporter’s privilege against testifying in criminal cases. Risen appealed to the High Court after a federal appeals court panel ruled against his effort last year.

TO DO

Join Ellsberg, The Nation and a host of other organizations committed to protecting press freedom in calling on President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to halt all legal action against Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.

TO READ

Josh Gerstein at Politico reports on the Obama administration’s recent decision to urge the Supreme Court not to take up Risen’s case.

TO WATCH

Last year, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! covered the Committee to Protect Journalists’s first report on press freedom in the United States. The report asserts that officials are “reluctant to discuss even unclassified information…because they fear that leak investigations and government surveillance make it more difficult for reporters to protect them as sources.”

Bad Apple Campaign Takes Its Message to the Technology Giant’s Doorstep

Green Apple protest

Protesters from Green America and China Labor Watch

Earlier this month, The Nation joined Green America and China Labor Watch to call on Apple to stop exposing workers at its supplier factories to deadly chemicals. Over 16,000 people have joined the campaign, hundreds of media outlets have covered it and the technology giant has even responded, although it hasn’t adequately addressed activists’ demands. To make that happen, there’s still work to done and, this afternoon, Green America ramped up the pressure with a demonstration at Apple’s “cube” store located near Central Park in New York City. The store is a popular tourist destination and is one of Apple’s most profitable locations, grossing around $350 million per year.

As we pointed out at the beginning of the campaign, there are hundreds of chemicals routinely used in electronics manufacturing, some of which are known carcinogens and reproductive toxins and some of which have not been tested. Factory workers often do not receive adequate training or protective gear for handling toxic substances. Electronics manufacturers, including Apple, do not disclose the chemicals used in their supplier factories, making oversight and improvement difficult. The ramifications are serious; exposure to dangerous chemicals can lead to cancer, leukemia, nerve damage, liver and kidney failure, and reproductive health issues, depending on the chemical and level of exposure.

There’s some precedent for Apple responding to similar campaigns. In 2012, Greenpeace hosted an action to call attention to Apple’s wasteful energy practices. One year later, the company announced a plan to use 100 percent renewable energy at its data centers.

With millions of people working in their supplier network, another positive change from Apple could make a big difference. If you haven’t already, be sure to join The Nation and Green America in calling on Apple to rid its supplier factories of dangerous chemicals.

We Must Protect Net Neutrality

A net neutrality protest

(Courtesy: Flickr user Steve Rhodes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Federal Communications Commission announced this week that it will propose new rules that would allow companies to pay Internet service providers (ISP) for faster lanes to deliver their content to customers. That means that large corporations like Disney or Netflix could pay to have their content delivered more quickly, while small start-ups or anyone without lavish funding would be stuck with slow or low-quality service.

The rule change would be devastating for net neutrality, the principle that ISPs should treat all content on the Internet equally and that users should have equal access to all legal content.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court struck down rules the FCC implemented in 2010 to protect net neutrality on the grounds that the agency classifies broadband providers as information service providers and not telecommunications service providers, which can be regulated more strictly. As John Nichols points out, it is well within the FCC’s power to reclassify internet access as a telecommunications service and to reassert its authority to protect net neutrality.

TO DO

Don’t stand by while the internet is transformed into a pay-to-play service. Contact FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and tell him that we need a free and open internet. Then, check out the work of Free Press, a national media reform organizations that has been at the forefront of championing net neutrality.

TO READ

FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler was appointed by President Obama late last year. As John Nichols points out, Wheeler should take to heart the words of candidate Obama when he “‘got’ that net neutrality represented an Internet-age equivalent of the First Amendment.”

TO WATCH

Activists across the country have been working tirelessly to protect the free and open internet. Back in January, Free Press galvanized a coalition of organizations which delivered one million signatures to the FCC demanding net neutrality.

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