When I reported to my university that I was being emotionally abused, stalked, and harassed by a former dating partner, I hoped that my school would help keep me safe. Instead I was retraumatized, threatened into silence, and warned I could face retaliation—and even suspension—if I spoke openly about the abuse that I endured.
My experience is unfortunately common. Many students reporting sexual harassment across the country have faced similar experiences due to Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ harmful changes to Title IX, which make it harder for students to receive an education and contend with trauma.
Recently, President Biden’s Department of Education announced that it would begin the process of undoing DeVos’ attack on student survivors’ rights. The not so good news? The department won’t begin that process until May 2022. DeVos’ Title IX rule took 21 months to go into effect after the original changes were proposed. If Secretary Miguel Cardona and the Biden administration use a similar timeline, a final rule would not be issued until February 2024. Student survivors like me cannot wait any longer for the department to restore our civil rights.
During my sophomore year of college, I was in an abusive relationship in which emotional put-downs, threats, coercion, isolation, and gaslighting were regular occurrences. When I finally separated from the relationship, things escalated, and I faced retaliation, stalking, and a lengthy Title IX investigation that lasted for months with no resolution.
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During those months, my grades steadily dropped; I isolated myself from friends and family, I slept through my classes, and my PTSD and anxiety became so intense I couldn’t be on campus without fear of running into my abuser. Unfortunately, we were part of the same small department on campus, which meant I had to take classes with him if I wanted to graduate on time. Even worse, we were part of the same competitive extracurricular activity whose scholarship I was dependent on as a low-income student.
After I reported the dating violence to my school, the campus issued a no-contact order, which specified that we would not communicate with each other in any way and would not visit each other’s private residences. I found out weeks later that because I lived off campus, the order didn’t protect me at my current home.
Fearing for my safety, I broke my lease and moved back on campus so I could be protected under the no-contact order and sleep soundly at night. Not only did my school refuse to enforce the no-contact order off campus, but—at the demand of my abuser—my school stopped enforcing the no-contact order at all. Emboldened, my abuser began enrolling in the same classes I was taking at the college. He signed up for the same clubs I was leading on campus. He started going to the gym at the same time as me. He even applied to work at the same job as me, and when I learned he had been hired, I had no choice but to turn in my resignation. He made my life a nightmare for almost a year. The responsibility to avoid my abuser fell entirely upon me––making it nearly impossible for me to be a successful student.
Because of my school’s failure to take my complaint and my safety seriously, I lost scholarships and access to extracurriculars that would have helped me get a job after graduating. My grades suffered, my attendance dropped, my anxiety and depression spiraled out of control, and I didn’t even feel safe in my own home.
Unfortunately, stories like mine are becoming the norm. As a result of DeVos’ changes to Title IX, survivors are being denied equal access to education and face substantial barriers to reporting sexual harassment in schools.
In fact, nearly 40 percent of survivors who report to their school are pushed out of education, according to a survey of 100 students conducted by the advocacy group I’m part of, Know Your IX. And because of DeVos’ bad policymaking and a massive reduction in Title IX enforcement, survivors nationwide are being subjected to retaliation for reporting to their school. Nearly 23 percent of survivors who report to their school are threatened with a defamation suit by their perpetrator or the perpetrator’s attorney, according to the survey. And 15 percent of survivors who report to their schools are threatened with or face punishment for coming forward.
In my case, I was forced by my school to sign an agreement stating that I wouldn’t talk about my case or the abuse I endured because the school didn’t want me to harm my abuser’s reputation.
Because of DeVos’ changes to Title IX, my school was allowed to ignore the abuse I faced off campus, putting me at greater risk for violence in my home. My university’s inaction not only failed to protect me, but it also subjected me to further retaliation from my abuser.
The policies put in place by former Secretary DeVos aren’t aimed at protecting student survivors’ right to learn—they’re aimed at reducing schools’ liability when sexual harassment does occur. That’s why survivors, organizers, survivor advocates, and members of Congress have called on Secretary Cardona to end DeVos’ dangerous Title IX rule now.
Survivors don’t have the luxury of waiting for gradual change. Survivors need a Title IX rule that prohibits retaliation, ensures survivors get the support they need to stay in school, and requires schools to respond to all violence that impacts a student’s access to education—regardless of where the violence occurs.
Join me and demand the Biden administration take immediate action to undo the harmful legacy left behind by Betsy DeVos as we deliver our petition Wednesday morning. Only by crafting Title IX policies with survivors in mind can the Department of Education provide an educational environment where all students can flourish.