Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Open Letter to Michael T. Benson, President of Eastern Kentucky University, Regarding Title IX Protections for Sexual Assault Survivors

Last week Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she intends to dismantle the Dear Colleague Letter Guidelines that have given survivors of sexual assault more respect in the reporting and investigatory process of sexual assault by utilizing the protections in Title IX to a safe learning environment.

Shortly before her announcement I posted Sexual Assault Happens... Then What?, my post to raise awareness about the importance of taking campus sexual assault seriously and urge people to stand up for survivors.

Upon learning of Secretary DeVos' decision to dismantle those guidelines, I wrote a letter to the current President of EKU, Michael T. Benson. As an alumna of EKU and a survivor of campus sexual assault I feel a duty to urge my alma mater to be a leader in the adherence of Title IX using the Dear Colleague Letter Guidelines to take campus sexual assault seriously and providing the support survivors need to move forward.

Here is the open letter version of the letter I sent President Benson.

Dear President Benson,

I am writing to you today to urge you and the entire Eastern Kentucky University administration to take concrete actions to protect the civil rights of survivors of sexual assault. As a proud December 1991 alumna of EKU, I am concerned about how the rhetoric and actions of the Trump Administration and the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos will impact the ability of students, including my niece, at EKU to enjoy a college education free from discrimination.

As a survivor of campus sexual assault that took place on the EKU campus, I implore you to use the Title IX protections, including the guidelines in the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, to their fullest extent to protect survivors and give survivors the support needed to continue their education. Campus sexual assault is a serious issue. Survivors have a hard enough time moving forward with their lives. I want survivors today to have the support I didn’t have on campus. During my time on campus, there was a general knowledge among females on campus that reporting was pointless. I attended, and as an RA even organized, rape prevention events on campus. Interestingly, those events put all the responsibility on girls to stop rape and never once addressed the concept of telling boys to take no for an answer. I mention this because I noticed the EKU police website still pushes this same idea. This makes me sad. It makes girls less likely to report because they’re too busy trying to figure out what they did wrong when a guys refuse to accept their nos. Also, those rape prevention events did little to encourage reporting in those days. I sincerely hope that has changed.

Although I didn’t report it when I was sexually assaulted on campus, I sought counseling on campus. Far too much of my counseling focused on whether or not I was going to go public and the counselor questioning my experience rather than help me deal with it. The guy who raped me was still a student and began to stalk (though I didn’t realize that his behavior was stalking until much later) me during my counseling. My counselor was ill equipped to handle the situation and kept circling back to whether or not I was going public. I eventually had to leave my job as an RA and move to a different residence hall to keep the guy who raped me from finding me and eventually off-campus when he found me at the new residence hall as well. I had to put everything that happened in writing and once again was questioned about whether or not I intended to go public before being granted permission to move. I didn’t know things could be handled any differently and was far too vulnerable and naive to fight back at that time. I just wanted to get my education, graduate, and get as far away as possible.

I sincerely hope that survivors today aren’t faced with a situation like I was where the university is more interested in protecting its reputation than in providing support.

I would like to see EKU lead in the adherence to Title IX protections for sexual assault survivors and to come out with a strong statement that sexual assault is taken seriously on campus and that Secretary DeVos’s rollback of the guidelines won’t change that. It is within your power to treat sexual assault with the seriousness it deserves. Please protect all EKU students by vowing to handle sexual assault on campus justly rather than seeking ways to cover it up as has happened in the past. Give students, including those who are marginalized, the security of knowing they can report and will be treated with respect.

In light of the September 22, 2017 announcement by Secretary DeVos to dismantle the Title IX guidelines protecting survivors, I urge you to publicly commit to upholding prior Department of Education guidance, including the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. It is more important than ever that EKU show it will handle campus sexual assault responsibly. In addition to a public statement vowing to protect survivors utilizing Title IX protections, I ask you to make your voice heard to the Department of Education and to Secretary DeVos to urge them to do the right thing and maintain policies and guidance that have been established by the implementation of Title IX in cases of sexual assault.

I have read the guidelines set forth in the Dear Colleague Letter. They are fair and just. For the first time, they give survivors a sense that their voices matter. Please don’t take that away because the Department of Education has dismantled the guidelines.

Please show your alliance with organizations such as It’s On Us, End Rape on Campus, and Know Your IX as part of your statement. These groups are working to protect students all around the country, including EKU students.

I look forward to reading your public statement soon.

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