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Betsy DeVos Rewrote Campus Sexual Assault Rules, But Survivor Activists Aren’t Backing Down

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Mother Jones illustration; Courtesy of Frances Kendrick

Frances Kendrick, a 18-year-old pre-nursing student at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, was scrolling through Instagram this spring when a post caught her attention. A black-and-red graphic, posted by the sexual assault survivor advocacy group Know Your IX, warned that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was about to institute new regulations that would reduce schools’ responsibility to respond to sexual misconduct among their students. Kendrick, who had made a sexual assault report to her school months earlier, was alarmed that the new rules would eliminate the 60-day timeframe for investigating reports; her own case was still dragging on, and she felt unsupported by NC A&T, a historically Black public university. “I automatically made that connection,” she says. “Like, oh hell, if this is how they’re treating us now, wait ’til they actually don’t have to be accountable.”

The panel convened to hear Kendrick’s case ultimately found the other student not responsible, and her appeal was denied. But Kendrick was already beginning to organize. The day after her hearing in June—which took place over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic—she wrote an open letter a friend posted on Twitter. “I went to an HBCU because I wanted to live in a space where I was cared for,” she wrote. “But it is clear that this school does not care about me as a survivor.”

She started a group, Aggies Without Fear, and launched an online petition demanding the school to go “above and beyond” the requirements in DeVos’ new rules, which let schools resolve cases within a “reasonably prompt” time. Kendrick’s letter asks for investigations and hearings to be conducted within 30 days; her own case had taken nearly 200. (NC A&T associate vice chancellor Todd Simmons declined to comment on Kendrick’s case due to federal privacy laws.)

Students have always been the drivers of the movement against sexual violence in schools. Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in education, has been their most powerful tool since 1992, when the Supreme Court ruled that a 10th grader could sue her school for not intervening after she reported being harassed and sexually abused by a teacher. But anti-rape advocates say much of the law’s utility to survivors has been undercut by the Trump administration’s reinterpretation of Title IX, which took effect on August 14. Now, as campuses across the country must adapt to the new rules while grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, students like Kendrick are adapting as well, looking for new ways to pressure their schools to assist students at all levels who endure sexual abuse or harassment.

“Historically, we viewed Title IX as a great tool to improve campus policies,” Sage Carson, the manager of Know Your IX, told nearly 200........

© Mother Jones

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