Step One: Do Your Research
Reading Your Policies
The first step in creating a petition is to figure out what your school is supposed to be doing according to their policies and procedures. While it can be boring and time-consuming to read through school policies, it’s critical for establishing your credibility and building the most impactful campaign. Pushing demands that your school has already met or exceeded can make student organizers seem unprepared and allows administrators to pat themselves on the back for a job well done without actually doing anything.
Finding your school’s Title IX policy should be easy, but oftentimes it requires digging. The easiest way to search for your policy is to Google your school name plus “Title IX”. This often will bring up your school’s Title IX or Student Conduct websites. If you’re having trouble finding the actual policy in these places, you can also try searching within your school’s Policy Library. Again, a quick Google search of your school + “policy library” should take you to the right place.
It’s important to make sure you’re looking at the most up-to-date Title IX or sexual misconduct policy. This isn’t always what is published on the Title IX website (although it should be). Former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’ Title IX rule went into effect on August 14th, 2020. You’ll want to double check that the policy you’re reading has an effective date of August 14th or later.
Remember, if you’re having trouble finding your policy, so are other students, and we can’t know our rights if we can’t find the policy.
What Happens in Practice
Unfortunately, what happens in practice doesn’t always align with what the policy requires. For example, schools may set a 60-day timeframe for completing investigations but consistently take over 100 days for each case. Reach out to students who have gone through the Title IX process as well as other student groups to find out what issues they’re seeing or experiencing.
Policy Red Flags Under DeVos’ Title IX Rule
Your school, like many others, will probably claim the regulation is stopping them from meeting your demand. They are hoping students won’t have taken the time to learn what is required by the regulation, and will be intimidated by its size and language. And they aren’t wrong, the regulation is confusing, long, and contradictory. But we broke down what the rule requires here.
Because the Biden administration continues to allow Betsy DeVos’ Title IX rule to be in effect while they create their own regulation, it’s especially important to evaluate what policy changes your school has made and create your demands based on where your school is falling short and failing to meet survivors’ needs. In order to mitigate the harms of this rule, we need students to take action at both the school and state level. As you’re analyzing your school’s policy, here are some major red flags to look out for and why they’re harmful:
- School does not use the preponderance of the evidence standard: The preponderance of the evidence standard is the only standard that holds the educations of both the complainant and respondent equally. Utilizing a clear and convincing standard tips the scale in favor of perpetrators.
- No required response or process for addressing off-campus violence, violence that happens during study abroad programs, or harassment that isn’t severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive: The Department of Education has significantly limited what violence is covered under Title IX. With the new rule in effect, schools will be forced to dismiss the majority of allegations of sexual violence or harassment, even though all violence and harassment can impact one’s ability to access their education. But, schools can create separate sexual misconduct policies not under Title IX to intervene in instances of violence and harassment that don’t meet the heightened standard or that occur off-campus or abroad.
- No or unclear timeline: The Department of Education has removed any specific timeline for completing investigations. While the rule says responses must be reasonably prompt, without clarity on what is considered prompt, it’s now easier than ever for schools to drag out cases with impunity until the involved students graduate or drop out.
- Does not grant interim measures and accommodations to survivors whose reports don’t fall within the Title IX rule: The new rule says schools are only required to offer interim measures to those whose cases fall under Title IX. Interim measures that help keep a survivor in school, such as no-contact orders, extensions on school assignments, and classroom or dorm changes should be offered to all student survivors, regardless of whether the violence or harassment faced is covered under Title IX.
- Not providing attorneys for cross-examination: The new rule requires live, direct cross-examination by the advisor of each party’s choosing. Many respondents will choose to utilize attorneys, putting survivors at a disadvantage if they choose to use a confidential victim advocate as their advisor. Schools should provide an attorney advisor at no cost to those who request it.
- No and limited amnesty policy for conduct code violations that occurred during violence: Survivors can be deterred from reporting if they fear getting in trouble for breaking school rules, for example, if a student was drinking or using drugs in their dorm on campus when the violence occurred. This is particularly relevant at religious schools where students can be punished for having sex before marriage. Schools should implement amnesty policies to ensure students are protected from disciplinary action when reporting violence.
- No confidential services for student survivors: In light of COVID-19 budget cuts and changes made to Title IX, some schools are considering cutting confidential victim advocates and other confidential services for survivors. These services are absolutely critical for student survivors. Instead of reducing these programs, schools should ensure respondents also have access to someone that can assist them in navigating the Title IX process.
No clear process for addressing violence within a remote learning context: The final rule is vague about school’s responsibilities to respond to cyber harassment and violence, which is especially detrimental in the midst of a global pandemic that has resulted in classes being moved online. Schools should make it clear that sexual harassment that occurs online will be covered by the school’s sexual misconduct policy.
Next, consider what your school does in reality and how you’ll hold your administrators accountable. It’s not uncommon for schools to say one thing in policy but do another in action. Can you count on your school to do what their policies say? If not, it’s time to apply pressure to hold your school accountable.
Previously, students could file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights if their school was violating Title IX, which required schools to take robust action to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Because the Trump administration’s goal was to reduce school’s responsibility to respond to violence, the federal government may be far less helpful than in the past. That means student organizing is absolutely critical for holding your school accountable. Student power can have a huge impact. Consider going to the press to bring awareness to your school’s shortcomings, get donors and alums to commit to not donating until the school implements better policies, and utilize social media to blast your school and make others aware of what’s going on. Or work with local legislators that require your school to provide the support survivors need.
Finally, if your school has implemented problematic policies or policies that fall short, it’s not too late to make a change. You can still use this toolkit and petition to demand your school implement policies that do more to protect student survivors. Additionally, many schools will be staring off with interim Title IX policies as they finalize the processes. This is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the harms of the new rule and offer solutions. Check out these sections of our toolkit for help on building a team, planning your campaign, and working with the media.
Step 2: Creating Your Petition
Once you’ve identified your targets, it’s time to create your petition. It’s crucial to first start your petition with an introduction that provides relevant background information so your administrators understand the issue. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how student survivors are being harmed or will be harmed if your demands aren’t met. The important thing to focus on here is how students’ educations are negatively impacted when schools fail to adequately respond to and remedy complaints of sexual violence and harassment. Feel free to pull from anything in the report to assist you! You can check out one of our previous petitions here for guidance on formatting your petition and intro paragraph.
Below are a multitude of different demands that you can plug into your petition. After reading your policies and identifying the gaps and issues, copy and paste the relevant demands listed into your petition letter. Remember, do your best to avoid including demands that your school already meets or exceeds. For example, many schools already utilize the procedural protections listed in section 4. Crafting a petition that is well-researched positions you as an expert on what students need and what your school should be doing.
These demands were created from the recommendations we put forth in our recently published report, “The Cost of Reporting: Perpetrator Retaliation, Institutional Betrayal, and Student Survivor Pushout”. For more details as well as an explanation of why these policies are needed, check out our report here.
- Mental health services, adequately trained providers, and crisis advocates
- Provide unlimited access to mental health services to survivors free of charge
- Require training specific to working with survivor populations for all school counselors/mental health professionals
- When these services cannot be provided on campus, provide cost-free, accessible transportation to and from off-campus services or an alternative means of access such as telehealth services
- Maintain a confidential rape crisis center on campus or a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a local rape crisis center and domestic violence service provider so as to ensure 24/7 access to a confidential crisis advocate
- Provide accessible information to all students on how to contact confidential advocates and 24/7 hotlines
- Increase funding for on-campus mental health services and for easier access to off-campus resources
- Residential and dining accommodations
- Reserve a number of vacant rooms or apartments as emergency housing for students who feel unsafe in their current housing due to gendered violence or harassment
- Provide lease-breaking assistance for both school-owned and non-school-owned housing via informational guidance and direct support for students who have to leave their housing due to violence or harassment
- Remove any fees or ongoing, punitive costs for student survivors leaving school-owned housing
- Assist students in obtaining necessary certification to break lease free of charge, if applicable under state law
- Provide funding to cover reasonable moving expenses for survivors accessing emergency housing
- Reimburse survivors for lost dining fees and ensure no additional fees if a move to a new dining facility is needed to avoid perpetrator
- Ensure all emergency housing plans include meaningfully comparable gender-inclusive and disability-accessible options
- Train all housing staff, including resident assistants (RAs) on how to best respond to sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence
- Establish and train housing staff in protocols for how to comply with civil, criminal, and/or campus-issued restraining or stay-away orders
- Academic and disability accommodations
- Ensure robust and cost-free academic accommodations including, but not limited to, access to tutoring, extensions on assignments, excused absences from class, and additional time for exams
- Train all faculty and staff on how to ensure academic accommodations are respected and adhered to, and enforce the following of supportive measures
- Allow survivors to withdraw from and retake classes without financial penalty, receive tutoring for free, and have course change fees waived
- Ensure the Title IX office works in collaboration with disability services to provide disability accommodations throughout Title IX procedures
- Provide all disability accommodations in a timely manner
- Procedural protections for all parties
- Provide timely and clear notice of both parties rights and responsibilities under school policy and applicable law, factual allegations, and procedural developments
- Provide written or electronic notice in advance of any meeting or hearing parties are required or are eligible to attend
- Provide access to counsel and free legal consultations for students navigating the disciplinary process
- Allow a personal support person, either in addition to or in lieu of an attorney, to assist and advise parties throughout the disciplinary process
- Investigate complaints in an impartial, timely (60-90 days), thorough, and trauma-informed manner by appropriately trained investigators
- Determine findings of responsibility or non-responsibility with a panel of 3-5 impartial and regularly-trained decision-makers using a preponderance of the evidence standard
- Provide written explanation of any outcomes, including responsibility, non-responsibility, sanctions, and appeals
- Allow for appeals from both parties for biased decision making and new information that is relevant to the case
- Investigate appeals promptly and equitably utilizing a panel decision
- If utilizing cross-examination, require questions to be submitted in writing to a neutral third party
- If utilizing cross-examination, require all questioning to be conducted by a neutral third party
- Punishing survivors
- Review any disciplinary actions taken against student survivors to see if there is a causal connection between the sexual violence and the misconduct that resulted in discipline
- Prohibit penalties or punishments for violating school policies on sexual activity against students who report violence
- Require and enforce amnesty policies that prevent students from being punished for violations of the student conduct code that come to light from a report of violence, such as underage drinking, illegal drug use, or consensual sexual activity
- Prevent investigators from using alcohol or drug use alone to form an adverse inference regarding a party’s credibility
- Publicize and advertise amnesty policies to ensure students are aware
- Limit or remove the involvement of campus police or school resource officers in sexual misconduct cases unless specifically requested by the survivor
- Financial impact solutions
- Provide access to tuition waivers throughout the semester and while on a leave of absence or period of unenrollment from the school.
- Determine amount of tuition to be waived on a case-by-case basis
- Apply tuition waivers retroactively to previous academic terms if needed
- Ensure tuition waiver application processes are accessible for all students
- Publish the tuition waiver application process on school’s Title IX website
- Waive scholarship requirements, such as maintaining a certain grade point average or remaining in a certain academic department or program, for student survivors whose education has been negatively impacted by violence
- Provide access to scholarship waivers regardless of if the survivor chooses to pursue a formal Title IX process
- Conduct and publish climate surveys of the campus community once every two years. Questions should address topics that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The incidence and prevalence of sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking;
- Whether the perpetrator was a student and other contextual factors, such as whether force, incapacitation, or coercion was involved;
- Whether students know about institutional policies and procedures, such as the identity of the Title IX Coordinator, the location of university resources, and definitions of sexual misconduct;
- If survivors reported gender-based harassment violence, to whom they reported, and what response the survivor may have received;
- The cost and/or impact of violence on survivors, such as costs associated with counseling, medical services, or housing changes, as well as any disabilities that may have resulted from experiencing gender-based violence or harassment;
- Community attitudes toward gender-based violence and harassment, including individuals’ willingness to intervene as a bystander;
- Community members’ perception of campus safety and confidence in the institution’s ability to appropriately address gender-based violence and harassment.
- Collect and publish annually data on disciplinary outcomes in all Title IX procedures, making the data anonymized and non-identifying. Data should include:
- The number of reported instances of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, including domestic and dating violence and stalking;
- The type of process used to resolve each report (i.e., informal resolution or formal investigation), including alternative resolutions such as complainants or respondents leaving campus to end the process prior to a resolution;
- The number of investigations opened;
- The number of cases in which accommodations were requested, granted, modified, and denied;
- Where not identifying (as determined by a state agency through regulation), the number of students who experienced any of the following after reporting gender violence:
- Withdrawal from a class;
- Placement on academic probation;
- Voluntary or medical leave from school;
- Withdrawal from school;
- The number of respondents who were found responsible, the sanctions imposed, and the reasons given for the decision;
- The number of respondents who were found not responsible and the reasons given for the decision;
- The number of cases in which any changes were made to the determinations or sanctions as a result of an appeal and reasoning;
- The length of each case, from the time of the initial report to the final resolution.
- K-12 Policies
- Provide supportive measures without requiring a formal complaint of sexual misconduct. Supportive measures may include, but are not limited to:
- Academic accommodations, such as tutoring, extensions on assignments, and additional time on exams
- Confidential mental health care free of charge
- Changes in academic or dining schedules
- Ensure all accommodations are fully accessible to students with disabilities and to students learning virtually during and after the Covid-19 pandemic
- Remove police officers and school resource officers from all sexual misconduct investigations
- Prohibit punishing students who come forward with complaints of sexual misconduct in relation to those complaints (see section 5: Punishing survivors)
Step 3: Identify Targets
Now that you want to organize, it’s time to identify your targets. Targets are the people that have the power to enact the changes you are petitioning, and they are always people, not groups, boards, or institutions. You will have both primary and secondary targets. Note that several of the demands require collaboration between multiple offices, such as the Title IX office, Student Conduct, Residential Life, and Financial Aid/Registrar’s office. Thus, while your primary targets may be the Title IX coordinator or University President, your secondary targets may include administrators from these other offices. You can use the following Power Mapping activity to help you determine who has the power to make the changes you seek.
- Identify your primary targets. Who has the power to make the changes you demand? Since the decision-makers have the most power, you will put them near the top.
- Decide if each power-holder is more likely to be supportive or opposed to you and place them along the chart accordingly from left to right.
- Identify your secondary targets. Who else has power in your community? Who can influence the primary targets you listed? Write them down and place them depending on how much power they have and if they would oppose or support you.
- It can be helpful to draw lines connecting the targets so you know how the targets influence each other.
Often, campus administrations are complex. It can be difficult to identify who holds the power to make the decisions you need. Sometimes, administrators who don’t want to address your concerns claim that they can’t help you and send you in circles. Other times, you’ll find certain administrators almost impossible to work with. Identifying targets is crucial for having an efficient and impactful campaign on campus.
There are both primary targets and secondary targets. Primary targets can directly give you what you want, whereas secondary targets often have power over or can influence your primary targets and are typically more accessible. For example, for this petition, your primary targets may be the Title IX coordinator or University President, but your more accessible secondary target could be your school’s confidential victim advocate or the student government president.
Here is a list of potential targets. Please note that this list is not complete and that targets will vary from campus to campus.
- University President
- Title IX coordinator
- Office of General Council
- Student Government
- Notable Alumni
If you’re having trouble identifying targets, don’t panic. It can be helpful to research histories of student advocacy on campus to see who previous groups have identified as targets. You can also reach out directly to older student activists or activists alums, talk with student government leaders who understand the decision making process behind the scenes, or connect with other advocacy groups on campus to compare experiences.
For High Schools:
High Schoolers should focus on targeting their district instead of their individual schools since their schools likely do not have the power to change their sexual misconduct policies. First, you should identify your district’s Title IX Coordinator. While they likely don’t have enough power to change policy, they are a good person to get on your side. Most likely, your primary targets are your district’s Superintendent and the Board of Education because they determine the district’s policies. You should look at your district’s website to find out when the board meets and how you can sign up to address the board.
Step 4: Gathering Signatures
Once your petition is written, the next step is to collect signatures. The more signatures you have, the more support you’re demonstrating for the associated demands. There are multiple sites you can use to gather signatures virtually: Websites like change.org or thepetitionsite.com will allow people to see how many signatures have been collected as well as supporters’ reasoning for signing on. If it’s important to you to have the contact information of supporters (to follow-up, build a listserv, provide updates on escalation, etc.), you can utilize Google Forms instead.
For this petition, it is critical to show support from those who are directly impacted by the policies your school implements, such as students and other community members. Advertising your petition can be done in a multitude of ways:
- Utilize social media to your greatest extent! Circulate via Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc. and share/tag with @knowyour9 (on Instagram) or @knowyourix (on Twitter and Tiktok) so we can boost your petition. Share on your own profiles, in relevant social media groups, and directly to folks.
- Set a realistic but high threshold for the number of signatures you want collected. Consider the population of your school and the signature to population ratio you’re aiming to achieve.
- Ask those who have signed on to share directly with three-five people.
- Share the petition with relevant listservs, classes, clubs, and departments. You can email your petition to these groups or ask your teachers/professors for a few minutes at the beginning or end of class to discuss the petition with your classmates.
Step 5: Building Your Long-term Strategy
Delivering Your Petition
Make your petition delivery as public as possible to drum up attention––such as hosting a protest on campus and inviting reporters. You can find a helpful detailed plan for how to plan a petition delivery in our Campus Organizing Toolkit.
Follow-Up and Escalation
It’s critical to set a deadline for your demands to be met so that administrators don’t push you off indefinitely. In the time between your petition delivery and response deadline, you’ll want to keep plenty of attention on the issue. If your deadline passes with no commitment from the school, it’s time to escalate and ramp up the pressure. While many of us are not in-person, there’s still a lot we can do to pressure our schools to act. Here are some ideas:
Publish an op-ed: Media coverage is a critical tool in a student activist’s playbook. One powerful way to secure coverage is through publishing an opinion piece, known as an “op-ed,” in your local paper. These pieces typically run from 500 to 700 words and can help get your message out, spur cultural change, and put pressure on your school’s administration. An op-ed would be a great place to show your community how the current Title IX rule impacts students, and pressure your school to take action. Don’t forget to always include a call to action in your op-ed.
If you want help drafting or publishing your op-ed, KYIX can help!
Host a virtual town hall: School closures don’t mean we can’t engage with administrators. Invite key targets to join you for a virtual town hall so students can share why these changes are important to them. This can be an important space for administrators to hear directly from students about how the changes would impact them. A virtual town hall is also a great space to directly ask school administrators to commit to your demands.
Conduct a letter writing campaign: Encourage students, alumni, and parents to write letters to your school. You can provide talking points or a model letter, and then encourage classmates to personalize the message. Make sure to provide contact information for the school official to whom you want letters sent. You might also ask letter-writers to “BCC” you so you can keep track of what the administration is hearing.
Flood your school’s social media: A great way to get the attention of your school is to post your demands on social media. You might not be able to occupy your admin’s office right now, but you can flood the replies of their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ask folks that sign your petition to post the demands on every post from your school to make your campaign hard to ignore. The more people, the better!
Organize alumni: Graduates of your school are helpful allies! A first step might be to invite alumni to sign your petition or participate in a letter writing campaign. Or ask them to take it up a notch: A great tactic is for alumni to refuse to donate to the school until they institute your demands. Consider reaching out to alumni you already know or researching graduates whose values are aligned. Alumni who sit on school committees may be particularly powerful allies, though they may be less willing to join in the cause.
Go on strike: If you have students who double as employees for your university -- say, grad students -- that you know are allies in the fight against sexual violence, going on strike, especially now, will send a big message to the administration. This is a serious action that sends a big message, and requires a strong network of trust throughout your community, but if you already have existing relationships with folks in these positions, it’s worth trying to build out. Bear in mind that a strike requires more than a few people, and the fewer participants there are, the easier it will be for the administration to reduce your message to “a small but loud minority,” as well as target and pressure your strike participants to back down. “Strength in numbers” is especially key here.
This is obviously not an extensive list of all organizing options available to you. As long as you are putting pressure on your targets, get creative! Need help figuring out how to escalate and what to try next? Email us at email@example.com. We’re more than happy to assist and support you!