Grassroots campus organizing can create better, safer schools, but it can also be a frustrating process. Here, we’ve broken down some of the common obstacles and concerns shared by activists, along with our best advice for handling these inevitable bumps in the road.
College administrations grew 39% from 1993-2007 (as opposed to an 18% faculty growth rate). That is to say, colleges are becoming bigger, more bureaucratic, and harder to navigate. There are offices of student life, women’s centers, sexual assault prevention programs, deans, and many more places where you could take a complaint. The great thing about Title IX is that there is now a Title IX Coordinator on campus, who can be your first point of contact.
Not All College Offices Are the Same
As we said above, college administrations can be convoluted. It’s worth mapping out for yourself who the various organizations on campus are that deal with these issues. The Women’s Center is different from the disciplinary board, which is different from the victim advocates in an office of sexual assault prevention. Distinguishing between these organizations means you can form important alliances with advocates in places like the Women’s Center or the office of sexual assault prevention.
It’s not like colleges don’t know that they’ve got their face to the fire on sexual assault right now. Muck it up, and they’ll have an embarrassing op-ed in their school newspaper, a lawsuit, or even an Office for Civil Rights investigation. But there’s a difference between compliance and enthusiastic change. While there may be times that you want to throw the book at them, it’s important to communicate to administrators that you’re not just there to catch them doing something wrong, but to work together to make your campus safer.
Generating Student Involvement
Every student activist knows how heartbreaking it can be to pour all of your energy into an event and only have the same crew of already-believers show up. It’s great to have that original group of passionate allies, but a successful movement also hooks in new activists. There is no easy answer to fixing this problem, but making activism social is one way to draw people in. Don’t just set meetings when you need help making posters, but organize people to meet up for dinner or lunch. Make sure that people have the opportunity to form a sense of community around your activities. Consistent and persistent messaging can also help to lay the groundwork for that a-ha moment when someone makes the step from being a supporter to an advocate. Finally, the most compelling reasons to join the movement are people’s stories, so share them whenever the survivor has agreed.
Getting the Background Info
Figuring out how, when, and why your school’s existing policies were put in place is crucial. Some administrators have been around since the last time policies were revamped and that could be an important part of their perspective on any potential changes. Was there a heated debate on standards of evidence five years ago? Or maybe one administrator or office lead the charge the last time around? A good place to look is your school newspaper’s archives, which may have information on sexual assault controversies or major policy changes on campus.
At the end of the day, all student groups and non-profits need money. If you are planning to host events on campus, or are even just going to print color posters, it’s likely that you’ll realize how difficult securing funding can be. Sometimes, student governments or offices of student life provide grants for student groups. It may also be helpful to ally with existing, budgeted parts of the school like the Women’s Center for some events.
Compelling movements involve real people and real experiences. And if you want to communicate the utter injustice of campus sexual assault, hear from a survivor. Survivors’ stories are incredibly important in engaging and converting supporters. Remember: It is tremendously important to preserve confidentiality. Details like where a sexual assault occurred may seem generic to us, but can be very specific to a survivor with such strong associations to a place. At the end of the day, the survivor must retain the sole right to determine what is and is not shared.
At times it may feel like you’re standing in the middle of your quad or student center screaming. You may feel that people are not just listening to you, but that they’re not even hearing you. Being an advocate can be incredibly lonely — and perplexing. When something is just so undeniably wrong as rape, it’s hard to understand why everyone isn’t mobilized immediately and all the time to stop it. There are a few ways to combat these feelings of being alone in a crowded room.
- It’s not always because people don’t care about sexual assault. There are tons of students on campuses who think it is an awful thing. But maybe they have their own causes? Maybe they really believe in marriage equality or prison reform and they’re just too busy to be a very active advocate in your cause? Drawing the link between sexual violence and another issue — for example, prison rape and prison reform — can help to channel others’ energy into your cause. Sometimes it also feels good to contribute to another social justice cause for the very reason that you’re “paying it forward” to a fellow advocate.
- Even if you feel alone as an advocate either in your social circle or on your campus as a whole, there are more of us out there! Know Your IX began when students reached beyond their campuses to find support. There are lots of activists out there to commiserate with — you just have to find each other. Know who your like-minded friends are and keep their numbers on speed dial.
- If you feel like you’re alone in this fight, thank you, because that’s exactly where we need you to be. We don’t need advocates against sexual violence only in the women’s studies department — we need them in the locker room, the fraternity, and in corners of the campus where no one seems to care. You’re doing an amazing job, so keep it up.