EDITOR’S NOTE: Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence. An earlier version of this article stated that Know Your Title IX and its coalition partners were turned away from a meeting with Department of Education officials. Though the meeting happened, they considered it a dismissal of their demands. It also misstated an element of DeVos's Title IX amendment.
Several hundred students gathered by Traditions Plaza on the University of Missouri campus on October 5 to protest their college’s lack of action to protect their students from sexual violence at the hands of fraternity members. Among them was a current Mizzou student, Jane, who will be referred to by a pseudonym to protect her privacy. She survived an alleged drugged rape at an off-campus party and found little support from her college. Jane stood tall next to her friend with a “Protect Your Students, Not Your Reputation” sign.
She was among thousands of college students protesting rape culture on their campuses across the United States this fall. The long-standing movement she’s now a part of began in the 1970s with the push to establish Title IX, a rule prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded institutions. More recently, two college students, Andrea L. Pino-Silva and Annie E. Clarke, founded End Rape on Campus, a student survivor support organization, in 2013 after launching an independent investigation into the way colleges mistreat victims of sexual violence. This year, the movement evolved into a wave of countrywide protests against unsafe college campuses, mainly targeting Greek life organizations—especially fraternities—as the root cause of the problem.
Many anti-rape advocates have been in this fight for a long time, including Jasmine Lester, the founder of Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault, an organization aiming to support Arizona State University student survivors. Lester became a survivor activist in 2011, and since the spring of 2020 she’s invested enormous effort into mobilizing student-led organizations at ASU to support a proposal for an on-campus rape crisis center.
“What I hear a lot of is sexual assaults that happen at or after [fraternity] parties,” said Lester. “Even though I didn’t have anything to do with Greek life, I still knew ‘don’t go to a [fraternity] party, you’re going to be sexually assaulted.’”
On Jane’s Mizzou campus, sorority members have been protesting the lack of punishment for the fraternity members accused or even found guilty of sexual violence toward female-identifying students. Activists at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln have been advocating for shutting down Phi Gamma Delta, a fraternity also known as Fiji, which remains active at UNL despite its being known for rampant hazing and the sexual violence committed by its members. Washington University students set up the Occupy the Red Zone vigil and protest. The Red Zone refers to the part of the academic year when most sexual assaults occur, between August and November. This list goes on to include protests at the University of Colorado Boulder, Virginia Tech, University of Southern California, Eastern Michigan University, University of Delaware, and many more. In fact, over 100 rallies have taken place in the past two-and-a-half months, according to End Rape On Campus report.
The protests have picked up after Know Your IX, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for survivors’ rights, felt their demands were dismissed during a visit with officials from Department of Education on October 6, 2021. Know Your IX, along with coalition partners End Rape On Campus, It’s On Us, the National Women’s Law Center, Equal Rights Advocates, the Every Voice Coalition, and Girls Inc., collected 50,000 signatures on a petition to speed up the repealing of Betsy DeVos’s Title IX amendment and delivered it to the Department of Education’s Washington, D.C., office.
“The Department of Education has expressed ‘urgency’ and other empty platitudes about how they ‘take these matters seriously.’” End Rape On Campus said in a statement following October 6 KYIX rally. “Yet, they’ve committed to issuing a new proposed Title IX rule by May 2022. That’s unacceptable. Student survivors can’t wait two years before their rights are protected.”
DeVos’ amendment to Title IX has been detrimental to survivors turning to their schools for justice against their abusers. Under the new rule, the universities don’t need to investigate any off-campus assaults, which constitute anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of incidents depending on the school. The amendment would also allow for cross-examinations during Title IX hearings, including giving the alleged perpetrator the ability to choose an “advisor of their choice” to interrogate and question the survivor. The rule only exacerbated the long-standing issues of universities covering up sexual abuse and/or remaining inactive in supporting victimized students.
When a similar wave of protests washed over campuses across the country in 2012 and 2013, right before End Rape On Campus was founded, the issues with Title IX were only just coming to light. This time around, the protests aren’t born out of shock about the state of the system—there seems to be an awareness of the ways it is broken. The action comes from frustration, a clear understanding of the ways to fix it, and the knowledge that they deserve to be heard.