First, start with identifying the people in positions of power who have the ability to enact the changes you are advocating for. A target is always a person, not a group, body, or institution. Do the Power Mapping exercise below with your team to help you get started.
Power mapping will help us analyze our campus structure to identify key decision makers. Pressuring the wrong administrators is not a good use of your time, energy, or power. Find out who at your college has the power to make your particular demand(s) happen. Once you have identified these power-holders, research their stances and previous actions on gender-based violence issues. It will also be helpful to research past sexual and dating violence activism on your campus to learn what changes have been made before, and which administrators were involved in those processes.
If you find that you are not able to work with these administrators, research other individuals or groups on campus that could help you pressure the key power-holders. Consider reaching out to alumni, prominent donors, and others who may support your cause. Once you have mapped out the power dynamics on your campus, you can identify who your targets are. There are two types of targets:
- Primary Targets are people who can directly give you what you want;
- Secondary Targets are people who have power over your Primary Targets and who might be more easily accessible than your Primary Targets.
A smart campaign will work on pressuring both Primary and Secondary targets. If you are trying to get free emergency contraception for survivors at your campus health office, the Primary targets might be the Vice-President of Health Services and the President of the School, and the Secondaries might be your student government, Office of the General Counsel, or the Board of Trustees.
It’s essential to spend time identifying the appropriate targets for each of your goals and direct actions. If you target the wrong people, you are unlikely to achieve your goals because the pressure you’ve applied is in the wrong place within your school’s administration. Within a complex campus administration, it can often be challenging to figure out who actually has the power to make the decisions you want. Campus administrators who want to avoid addressing your concerns will often say, “Sorry, it’s not my call!” and send you around in circles to others who make the same excuse. Is it the Office of General Counsel? Is it the deans, the president, the provost? Is it the trustees? Is it the Title IX coordinator?
This will vary on different campuses, and is one reason that recording your group’s institutional memory is so important. If you’re having trouble identifying the decision-makers, you can also try asking older student activists or activist alums, talking with student government leaders who understand the behind-the-scenes decision making processes, or connecting with other student activists groups to see what they know about how these kinds of decisions are made.
Making a timeline will help your team stay focused on your goals and avoid burn-out by achieving small wins along the way. To make a timeline, first break down your demands into short, medium, and long-term goals. The main focus of this section is the intermediate goals, which are the objectives you’ll achieve through your specific campaign.
These demands describe how your campaign will make concrete improvements in people’s’ lives, give people a sense of their own power, and alter the relations of power in your community. The short term goals are things you can achieve leading up to and in support of your intermediate goals, like getting a meeting with the Board of Trustees or having student government pass a resolution in support of your demands. Your long term goal is the ultimate achievement that your organization could accomplish over a longer time period—the big picture change that motivates all of your work.
Next, lay these out in a timeline. It’s helpful to consider the following questions:
- When are decisions on this issue made? For example, a Board of Trustees meeting, a Task Force report, or an annual policy review.
- When are decision makers vulnerable? Prospective students weekend, family weekend, during public speeches, and when being considered for an award, job, or other recognition are good examples of times when decision-makers might be more susceptible to pressure.
- When can you get the most publicity? The summer or winter vacations are tough times to get media attention.
- When is your team the strongest? Do you want younger leaders practicing leading big events before older leaders graduate? Do you want a complicated action right before finals?
- When are other groups organizing big events on or off campus? You don’t want to compete with other student activist or social justice groups for media attention—the entire anti-violence movement is stronger when we plan and work together, and consider each other’s timeline when shaping our own.
Tactics are the actions, events, and activities that make up your campaign. They will often vary depending on the target: a tactic that works to influence a professor will look very different from one that works to pressure the head of Greek life. Flexible, resourceful, and creative tactics are great for attracting attention to your campaign and keeping your strategy fresh. For example, students at Columbia University turned a fine imposed on them for their protest into an opportunity for a snarky direct action protesting the school president, while students at University of Kansas created a mock recruitment video to distribute to incoming and prospective students, in which they criticized the school’s mishandling of rape cases. The tactics you select at various points during your campaign could be influenced by your size, energy, and resources, the strengths and styles of your current activists, the specific targets you’re trying to influence, and other factors.
Tactics typically fall into one of three categories:
- Base-Building tactics help you build your list of supporters and bring new members on board with your organization. Examples include tabling at student activity fairs, class raps, or making a petition and collecting email addresses.
- Educational tactics help educate your base about the campaign, the issues on campus, and your goals. These might include teach-ins, poster campaigns, trainings, speak outs, blogs and storytelling platforms, and articles or op-eds.
- Power tactics are the actions your organization and allies undertake to pressure your targets to concede to your demands. Protests, event interruptions, marking or altering campus spaces, and petition deliveries are good examples of power tactics. A power tactic typically is never the first time your target is exposed to your demands; for example, you don’t want to plan a huge protest blasting your target, the Dean, for not meeting your demands if it’s the first time you’re introducing the demands. Power tactics are what you do to win, but educational and base-building tactics are crucial to building a groundwork of awareness, community support, and organizational capacity.
Other examples of tactics include press conferences, media events, public hearings or forums, strikes, lawsuits or Title IX complaints, reports, and creative and performance pieces. Often, campaigns will begin by base-building and work up to educational and power tactics, but a great campaign will continue to incorporate base-building and educational events throughout the process in order to maintain momentum. As the campaign escalates, your community and your targets should become more and more aware of the issue and your demands.
These components are the primary building blocks of your campaign. We have created a resource for you to map this considerations, which can be found below or in our Campus Organizing Toolkit.
As an activist, getting your campaign into the view of administrators, the media, and the wider student body is an important task. You may have heard about organizers on other campuses making headlines or bringing about change with rallies, disruptions, and petitions. Diversifying and escalating your tactics help pressure your targets into action. Here are some tools to help find the best strategy for your campaign.
Direct Actions and Escalation
Direct actions are used to publicly expose existing problems on your campus, call out and pressure administrators for their inaction or wrongdoing, and rally community support. Holding protests and large rallies, delivering petition signatures, interrupting prospective student admissions sessions, and other similar direct actions are essential to build power and support behind the movement on your campus. Administrators may try to divert your group’s energy into closed-door meetings and task forces or advisory boards with no decision-making power. This will stall your movement and drain the support and energy you could gain from your student community. Therefore, it’s essential to use direct action tactics to publicly pressure your target administrators, expose the prevalence of gender-based violence on your campus and the urgent need for change, and rally community support.
The direct actions that other schools hold may or may not be the best for your campus. As students at your school, you know what works best for your community. Since your campaign is part of a much larger movement nationwide, you have many allies who can help you plan direct actions. Hear about a powerful direct action on another campus? Try to get in touch with the organizers to get ideas on how you can plan your own. You can also reach out to Know Your IX organizers or other organizers in your region online, through conferences, or in other ways. There are many opportunities for you to be inspired and for you to inspire others!
A productive strategy to use can be the inside/outside double approach. While direct action is critical to increasing visibility and public pressure on the administration, it’s often critical to have a team working with the administration on envisioning new policies and directions.
For the inside/outside tactic, it is best to have two teams—who will certainly coordinate with each other behind the scenes, but do not appear in the same administrator meetings and protests. This is not to say that the goals of these two teams should be different—on the contrary, they must align—but rather that they will come at the issue with different approaches. It’s hard to do one well without the other. Administrators are often less likely to cooperate fully with the people who are protesting, talking to journalists, and increasing public pressure. Therefore, having a team who is proposing the same ideas in formal meetings can be the best way to get your demands across. Administrators are still hearing these demands from students, but they are presented to them as the best way to tackle the increasing public pressure from the protests going on outside. With this inside/outside approach, it is crucial to maintain communication of progress between both teams to ensure that both are always working towards the same goals effectively.
When deciding which members of your team should be inside or outside, play to team members’ strengths. For outside actions, look for people in your group who are ready to lead direct actions with confidence, speak to the media in a compelling and self-assured way, bring energy to an action, and potentially risk getting in trouble or dealing with public attention. For the inside tactic, you need a team of people who are good negotiators and will stand frm, but show they are willing to work with those in power. You’ll also need someone who can take fast, accurate notes. The inside team should be ready to back one another up. They should be well-prepared with knowledge of your demands and best practices so they can avoid being given the run-around by administrators.
Note: Be careful not to use recording devices in closed-door meetings with administrators unless you have all parties’ consent, as this is illegal in some states. Check the laws in your state and plan accordingly. In every meeting, keep accurate and detailed notes to help future organizers plan effective strategies.
Escalating your tactics
You may find that although you have garnered many signatures on your petition, facilitated meetings, and created awareness-raising campaigns, survivors’ experiences on campus are not improving. Whatever your reason, escalating the intensity of your tactics in targeted, intentional ways is essential for pushing change forward. Remember that escalation does not have to be a last resort: escalation in various stages of a movement can be extremely benefcial. Plotting out ways to gradually raise the stakes every step of the way will help your campaign become a powerful movement.
When considering stepping up your strategy, decide if you want to keep your plans secret or if you want to warn power-holders that continued inaction or hostility will result in escalation. Sometimes, the element of surprise can work to your advantage and allow you to create actions that administrations or others would have otherwise tried to prevent. Other times, administrators think they can simply ignore you and wait until your movement dies out. Using escalation will send the strong message that your movement is not going away and actually, further inaction on the power-holders’ part will make their jobs harder.
When planning escalation:
- Escalate in ways that target reputation and money. Administrators’ main priorities are usually protecting the reputation of your school and looking after the bottom line. The two are often intertwined so use them to create incentives for your school to do better.
- Targeting your school’s reputation means making sure everyone knows your school is failing to protect its students. Sometimes, alums, parents, donors, faculty, and the general public will be shocked to hear of your school’s failings. Getting them involved will add some much needed pressure. It also means pushing back against the common excuse that all universities are mishandling sexual violence and that your school is different from any other. Pressure administrators to make your school a leader in this movement and to stand out as a good example. (Some common ground you as students may share with administrators is your mutual concern for your community; you may find administrators are more willing to listen if you remind them you are all working toward the common goal of improving your school.)
- When targeting cash flow, keep in mind that many schools get a lot of money from tuition, donations, and federal funding. You can pressure them to act by warning them that inaction or hostility may result in problems with enrollment and fewer donations (especially from alums and parents), and that not complying with Title IX could result in a loss of federal funding. Remind them that mistreating survivors could be financially costly to them. Some ways you might accomplish this are starting a campaign in which seniors pledge not to donate money to the school after graduation unless [insert your demand] is done to prevent sexual violence and support survivors, writing a sample letter to administrators that alums, parents, and donors can sign and send to your administration, or fling a Title IX complaint. It is also a good idea to aim campaigns at power-holders specifically involved in things like your school’s endowment and budget concerns, like the chair of the Board of Trustees.
- Escalate on one specific priority issue at a time. Escalation can bring an enormous amount of attention and power to your goal. To streamline and capitalize on this surge in power, focus the attention on one goal and remember that achieving that goal should open the door to achieving others.
- Have a target audience. Escalation often involves garnering publicity and mass support around an issue. Just as your overall strategy targets power-holders and main groups, focus your attention on those who have the most influence over whether or not your goal is achieved, like the president of your university, a dean, or the Board of Trustees.
- Have a timeline. Create a series of dates and “if this happens, then this we’ll do this” plans. Escalation often occurs when a deadline you have set has passed and you need a change of strategy. Give your administrators deadlines as well. For example, if you are publicizing a petition, provide a deadline by which you expect the administration to sign on. This increases public pressure by placing administrators’ reputations at stake. Plan the best way to escalate on your campus. Be creative!
Escalation can mean many things so have your team identify which sorts of escalation tactics fit your goals.
There will come a time in your campaign when campus administrators will accept your demand for a meeting, or proactively attempt to meet with you. Many campaigns have been derailed by administrators channeling 100-person rallies into five-person meetings, and using power derived from their position to prevent students from negotiating effectively in those meetings. Getting a seat at the table does not mean it’s time to stop protesting or speaking out: that’s probably what got you to the table in the first place! Instead, it’s time to observe the administrators carefully, understand their priorities, and think carefully about if and how you and your team will work with them.
You might find yourself wondering why your target(s) are ignoring you, reacting so harshly, being nice to you, etc. So why are they acting the way they’re acting? Like you and members of your student organizations, campus administrators also operate on self-interest. Although campus administrators individually and personally may have a wide variety of motivating forces, as a profession, administrators of institutions are often motivated by a common set of interests:
- Protect the university’s bottom line: despite rampant administrative bloat (the number of administrators on college campuses has doubled in the past 25 years), many universities are finding themselves more cash strapped than ever before. Fundraising has become very important.
- Protect the reputation of the university: damaging the reputation of the university can affect enrollment of new students, alumni donations, and the university’s relationship to other organizations.
- Protect the university from liability: universities do not want to be sued because it is expensive and damaging to the university’s reputation.
- Protect their own careers: high-ranking administrators hop from one university to the next. They get promoted when their tenure increases the university’s budget, the college goes up in the rankings, and they are able to keep the campus calm. Sometimes, administrators even receive bonuses for “good performance.”
For these reasons, campus administrators will do anything to make your group “go away” quietly and stop protesting. They’ll often make you feel insecure in your own power as a student or a group and create self doubt. If you ever think that you should just take whatever they’re offering, or stop protesting because you don’t want to upset your administration, just remember: they have to deal with you. It’s their job! They can’t turn you away if you keep escalating (as long as you don’t turn the public against yourself). Gender violence is too prevalent on our campuses for us to just go away. We have to do our best to avoid being played by administrators.
Additional tips for meeting with administrators
- Take notes and/or record the meetings! You’ll often catch the most useful quotes if someone is taking careful, thorough notes, and you can potentially catch administrators in lies. Make sure to check on your state’s laws about recording conversations without everyone knowing—some states allow it and some don’t. Journalists often prefer to have actual recordings rather than notes to back up your claims.
- Discuss the possible outcomes of the meeting beforehand with your group, and establish what actions by administrators will trigger you to take decisive action (like walking out). Establish those triggers, and then assign one person in the meeting the authority to initiate.
- It is almost never a good idea to accept concessions in a meeting without bringing it back to your organization. Establish early on that no one can speak unilaterally for the group.
- If administrators attempt to retaliate against you or your group, make it public! Bring any retaliation by administrators to the media.
Ground Your Proposals in Survivors' Experiences and Needs
The most important thing to remember while writing demands is this: effective policy work is survivor-centric. Your proposals need to be grounded in survivors’ experiences and needs, or they won’t solve the problem. That means it’s critical to gather survivor stories to assess how your school is handling reports of sexual and domestic violence. Make sure to provide a safe space for these stories to be shared, with the option of anonymity for those who choose to speak out. Peer-facilitated survivor support groups can also be a safe space to learn about how survivors are experiencing your school’s adjudication process.
If you use survivors’ stories in your policy proposals, make sure that you get their consent first. If you are using someone’s story, make sure that it’s anonymous and generalized so that a survivor cannot be individually identified from the information you include. Make sure to analyze your school’s sexual assault prevention efforts and response from a variety of standpoints, taking into account race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, and other factors.