By Lisa Woolfson
Behind the Department of Education building in Washington, D.C., a group of people stood together, the only light coming from a few candles. There was a neon sign that read “STOP BETSY” and a flag that read IX (for Title IX). It was a vigil for sexual assault survivors, but it was also a protest against Betsy DeVos, held Oct. 19.
Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, just changed the Title IX guidance on sexual assault investigations. She repealed federal rules created by the Obama administration and replaced them with interim guidance while the Department of Education drafts new rules. One of these new changes allows schools to use a higher standard of evidence to review complaints of sexual assault than the old rules allowed.
While sexual assault survivors and their parents told their stories, they also talked about what DeVos had done and why they thought it was wrong. After a supporter shared their story, the group would often chant “We believe you.”
The vigil was organized by End Rape On Campus (EROC). EROC is a survivor advocacy organization that aims to stop sexual violence. The managing director, Jess Davidson, shared her personal story of being sexual assaulted with those present at the vigil. She said she was very frustrated with Betsy DeVos’ treatment of sexual assault survivors. She said, “Over time I’ve become a little fatigued that it’s survivors in response to DeVos and then DeVos does something and we respond and then we do something and then she responds…”
Jess’s father, Jim Davidson, came to the vigil to speak and support his daughter. In regards to the Title IX changes, he said, “I hope [DeVos] will see how these rules effect real people and real families”.
First, parents talked about their experiences with their children who were sexual assault survivors. Afterwards, everyone held a candle and was silent while the names of those who died after being sexually assaulted were read.
Survivors then shared their stories. Jay Wu, who graduated from Swarthmore College in 2015, is on the communications team for the National Center for Transgender Equality and was one of the speakers. Wu was at the vigil in both a personal and professional capacity.
“Title IX does apply to transgender students regardless of what the department [of education] says,” they said. “It is always simultaneously difficult and comforting for me to be in spaces like this where survivors are telling their stories because those stories are so often difficult ones to hear.”
One idea that was emphasized throughout the night was sexual assault survivors shouldn’t have to gather and share their incredibly personal stories to try and force the administration to do what they should be doing anyway.
“You need to do your job,” said Sofie Karasek, a vigil organizer. “Take care of students who you’re there to serve by keeping them safe and insure that they have an educational opportunity that’s not interfered with by rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
This was just one of seven vigils held for sexual assault survivors that night. The vigil ended on a more positive note with speakers discussing resources for sexual assault survivors and ways to improve the treatment and prevention of sexual assault.
Featured Photo Credit: JPeople gather for a vigil for sexual assault victims held at the Department of Education. (Lisa Woolfson/Bloc Photographer)
Lisa Woolfson is a sophomore journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.