Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW protest outside the Department of Education in July 2013

Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW protest outside the Department of Education in July 2013

Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW campaign is putting pressure on the federal government to give Title IX teeth. For updates, sign up for our updates and actions.

The Issue

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the office tasked with enforcing Title IX, has never once sanctioned a college or university for sexual assault-related Title IX violations. Instead the agency quietly concludes investigations, asks universities to sign voluntary resolution agreements (VRAs) — essentially signed promises to do better next time — and issues no finding of violation. In the high stakes game of college rankings and university branding, schools get off scot-free: their reputations intact and with little incentive to make meaningful changes in the future. This lackluster enforcement sends a clear message to universities, and the risk management firms that represent them, that their abuses will go unpunished.

What We’re Doing About It

On July 15, 2013, ED ACT NOW organizers, survivors, and student activists traveled from all corners of the country to Washington, D.C. to protest outside the Department of Education. We presented a petition of over 100,000 signatures, calling on the OCR to conduct timely, transparent, coordinated, and proactive investigations; involve survivor-complainants in the process of arriving at any resolution to an investigation; and issue meaningful sanctions against non-compliant schools. After our protest, we met with top White House, Department of Education, and Department of Justice officials — the first of many such meetings.

Since then we’ve presented policy recommendations to the White House task force on campus sexual violence, delivered new petitions, testified before Congress about campus sexual violence, and advocated in the national media for better federal enforcement of Title IX.

Our Victories

After our initial meetings, the Department of Education agreed to shorten its timeline for investigations to ensure swifter justice for survivors.

On January 22, 2014, President Obama created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. A majority of the objectives the President directed to the Task Force were identical to those we demanded of the Administration the previous summer.

In April 2014, the White House Task Force released its first report, acknowledging the need for improved coordination among federal agencies and transparency from the OCR. At the official announcement of the report, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “gave credit to student activists who have been shining a spotlight on the issue, telling a group [us!] that stood on a plaza outside the Department of Education last year with ‘boxes and boxes’ of petitions that influenced thinking at the department.” Additionally, the Task Force’s brand new NotAlone.gov website listed Know Your IX as a resource for survivors.

A few days later, the Department of Education published the list of colleges and universities currently under investigation for sexual violence-related violations of Title IX — a longtime demand of ours. And later that month, the OCR issued a formal finding of noncompliance against Tufts University and Virginia Military Institute — a turning point in federal Title IX enforcement (no school in recent memory has been found out of compliance) and a significant victory for us in our work to end the pattern of impunity.

In July 2014, bills were introduced in both the House and Senate to end campus sexual violence. ED ACT NOW organizers consulted on both bills and spoke at the bipartisan coalition of senators’ press conference. Most importantly, central to both bills are provisions to give the Department of Education the authority to fine schools for Title IX violations, a priority for ED ACT NOW since its launch.

The Work Ahead

We’ve made tremendous strides [in the last year] — thanks to the tireless efforts of survivors, advocates and government officials — but our work isn’t done. It’s long past time we give Title IX teeth. Until we do so, we will remain stalled, unable to realize the full promise and potential of the law: equality in education for people of all genders. –ED ACT NOW Organizer, Al Jazeera America

Despite our significant victories, work remains. Here’s what we’re focusing on these days:

(1) Transparency

The OCR’s publication of a one-time list of colleges under investigation is a strong first step, but it’s not enough. To promote true transparency, OCR must make the list of schools under investigation available publicly on an regularly updated basis. Until the Department starts issuing meaningful sanctions against schools, bad press is the only tool we’ve got to shame schools into change. It shouldn’t fall on survivors’ shoulders to expose and remedy their schools’ violations — that’s the Department’s job.

(2) Enforcement

It is unconscionable that, in ED’s entire history, the agency has never once sanctioned a school for sexual violence-related violations of Title IX. Such tolerance allows institutional abuses to go unchecked at students’ expense. The Department’s poor enforcement is perhaps in part due to the bluntness of the only instrument at OCR’s disposal: revoke all federal funding — which would be devastating for students, particularly those dependent upon federal financial aid. But the alternative — to do nothing at all — is unacceptable. That’s why we’re calling on legislators to step in and provide the OCR new tools, like fines, to hold schools accountable and protect students’ civil rights. Fines would would allow the OCR to hold schools accountable without hurting students in the process.

(3) Economic Justice

On November 6, 2014, Know Your IX, along with the United States Student Association, sent a letter to the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon. The letter observes, “It has become increasingly obvious that the violence survivors experience, compounded with the financial consequences of such, often jeopardizes their ability to get an education, with enduring consequences throughout their lives.” It calls upon the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to clarify universities’ obligations to address the economic barriers to survivors accessing education, specifically with respect to costs of counseling, other mental health and substance abuse services, medical services not covered by health insurance, housing assistance, disability services, academic support services, tuition, and student loan interest accrual. The letter is available here.

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Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW team at the White House.

Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW team at the White House