In a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice-President Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education last week. The choice was controversial due not only to her lack of experience when it comes to politics and public school systems, but also, as campus sexual assault activists have noted, to her refusal to confirm that she would uphold Title IX. Campus sexual assault activists and educators alike are concerned that a Trump administration — especially one including DeVos — could undo the important work done to combat sexual violence on campus using Title IX legislation.
MTV’s own campus ambassadors explore what campus sexual assault activism currently looks like at their schools, what still needs to be addressed, and what worries them most about DeVos’s new role.
Taylor Vidmar, Richland Community College
As a student who’s been in public schools for her entire education (and still attends a public college), I’m terrified that Betsy DeVos is our secretary of education. It is so frustrating to see someone who has virtually no experience with public education in any way, shape, or form — and who actually has opposed public education — have oversight over every public school in the country. Friendly reminder: 90 percent of students go to public schools.
DeVos’s failure to commit to protecting Title IX and her failure to stand up for campus sexual assault victims also concerns me. There is a clear need for this work: The documentary The Hunting Ground is a great exposé of how many colleges and universities have failed to investigate rape accusations in order to apparently maintain their image. Because my campus is so small, there’s a definite lack of campus sexual assault activism. Aside from a short talk at student orientation from campus security about reporting sexual assault and/or abuse, there really wasn’t any serious education about consent, sexual assault, or Title IX. I think campuses should require courses covering topics like consent as well as the resources and support systems at their campuses that students can turn to when in need. But students can work to help prevent rape from occurring on their campus by holding their college accountable for not taking the necessary steps to stop the cycle of campus sexual assault. We must urge our administrations to stop mishandling assault cases and to actually punish those who’ve committed sexual assault.
Emily Tantuccio, Rutgers University
I took a class at Rutgers last spring called “Special Topics: Sexual Communication.” I went into it not really sure of what to expect, and maybe even a little nervous, but it ended up being one of the most eye-opening classes I took during my college career. The curriculum covered everything from LGBTQ relationships and norms, to how to discuss consent and happiness with a partner, to ways to identify abusive behaviors early on in a relationship, to facts about sexual assault on college campuses. It was a smaller class, which forced a lot of us to participate more often and created a sense of accountability (as opposed to being in a huge lecture hall where you can get away with sleeping in the back row and nobody says anything). It opened up some very insightful dialogue, and we got into topics that may have been uncomfortable to discuss but were definitely vital to increasing everyone’s understanding of rape culture, sexual health, etc. When we watched The Hunting Ground toward the end of the course, a lot of the guys in the class seemed shocked about some of the statistics and information shared, but also said they were more motivated to educate others about it going forward. I was really happy with my experiences in that class. I hope they continue to offer it at Rutgers going forward, and think that if it was replicated at other colleges, it could really have a positive impact for a lot of students.
Another amazing facet of sexual assault activism (and campus safety in general) at Rutgers is an on-demand buddy system program we have called SafeHalo, which was launched by a senior in our business school named Daniel Reji. All students have to do is text SafeHalo, and two SafeHalo members will come to wherever they are to walk them back to their house or dorm. To sign up, students leave their info at wearesafehalo.com, and then they get a response with contact information about how to reach out when they feel they’d like members of the team to come escort them home. In this interview with one of our campus publications, Daniel said he realized our issue wasn’t increased campus security as much as it was a lack of a way for students to access safety resources that wouldn’t make them feel judged or scrutinized by authority figures. I think that they’re slowly launching SafeHalo at some other universities throughout the United States. I hope it’ll eventually launch at every college.
Regardless of what Betsy DeVos wants to deny and hide from, campus sexual assault is an epidemic that is only going to continue to get worse if we do not actively acknowledge it and fight against it. As nerve-racking as her appointment is, I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to be part of a community that refuses to back down from addressing these issues. I have faith that we will continue to make progress as long as we all continue to stand up for what’s right.
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