Step 1: Is My School Supporting Student Survivors?
The first step is to run a quick search to see if your school has put out any recent statements on Title IX in response to Betsy DeVos.
What constitutes a successful statement?
Some schools have already taken a stand on behalf of student survivors. For example, the University of Michigan issued a strong statement announcing that they will maintain existing policies. Other schools, such as Yale, have stated only that they will participate in further discussion with Betsy DeVos. This statement is not strong enough. Betsy DeVos has made it clear she does not support survivors and is actively working to strip them of their rights. Students should only accept an ironclad commitment by the school to maintain policies established under the Dear Colleague Letter.
Step 2: Build a Team
Doing this work as a team ensures strong work with less burnout. To build your team, reach out to 5-10 people who might want to partner with you on this campaign (which will involve writing and editing a letter to share with their networks). You can draw from your friends, classmates, activists you know are organizing on other issues, as well as the leaders and members of existing clubs on campus. If you are an alumni, you should reach out to students to make sure your efforts are coordinated. Students can also reach out to alumni to build support.
As you’re building a core team, try to reach out to people with a wide range of experiences and expertise. It is important to center survivors in your campaign, especially those whose experiences have often been marginalized in national conversations about sexual violence (including survivors of color, undocumented survivors, and LGBTQ survivors).
For additional support, review “How Do I Build a Team?"
Step 3: Identify Key Decision Makers & Request a Meeting with Administrators
Start with identifying the people in positions of power who have the ability to commit to maintaining existing policies as articulated by the Dear Colleague Letter. These individuals will also be the target of the open letter.
If you are an undergraduate student, we recommend requesting a meeting with key administrators, such as your Title IX Coordinator, Provost, or President, where you can ask them in person to maintain campus policies. If you are an alumni, work with undergraduate students to craft a meeting request, even if you cannot ultimately attend.
Sometimes You Don’t Need a Letter: University of Michigan Case Study
After Betsy DeVos gave her speech, student government leadership from the University of Michigan met with President Mark Schlissel. During the meeting, the students presented their case and the President agreed to release a public statement in support of existing policies. Positive aspects of the statement include (emphasis added):
“A safe environment for all is our No. 1 priority, and we want to assure all U-M students that our approach to addressing student sexual misconduct has not changed. Although the U.S. Department of Education has announced it is reviewing guidance on campus sexual misconduct and Title IX, no new federal guidelines have been issued.
We continue our longstanding commitment to sexual misconduct education and prevention outlined in the policy..."
Step 4: Draft the Letter
Alumni at George Washington University as well as students at Stanford University have written open letters to their school. Although you should avoid copying the text—and should make demands based upon unique problems facing your student body—they offer useful models for what a successful open letter can look like.
Here are some ideas about how to structure an open letter:
Paragraph 1: The Opening
- Who do you represent? Students? Alumni? Community Members?
- What are you asking for? We want the University to:
- Uphold existing policies
- Express support for Dear Colleague Letter
- Stand up against Betsy DeVos’ efforts to reduce federal enforcement of Title IX
Paragraph 2: Frame What Betsy DeVos Said
Not everyone will know why you are writing an open letter about Title IX; a paragraph that describes what Betsy DeVos has recently announced can be a helpful way to provide context and frame your argument.
Highlights from DeVos’s Speech:
- Gaslighting Survivors: “Any perceived offense can become a full-blown Title IX investigation. But if everything is harassment, then nothing is.”
- Appealing to Men’s Rights Rhetoric: “It's no wonder so many call these proceedings ‘kangaroo courts.’”
- False Equivalency: “Every mother dreads getting that phone call: a despondent child calling with unthinkable news. I cannot imagine receiving that call. Too many mothers and fathers are left on the other end of the line completely helpless. I have looked parents in their tear-filled eyes as they recounted their own stories, and each time their pain was palpable.”
Paragraph 3: Why Is This a Problem?
Prevalence Data: In order to demonstrate the scope of the problem, you can use campus-specific statistics from a campus climate survey. You can also use national data from the American Association of Universities survey:
- 11.7 percent of students report nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation
- 23.1 percent of female undergraduates report experiences of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation
Equality and Safety Concerns: You can also use this paragraph to illustrate how sexual violence undermines the university’s commitments to promoting a safe and equal campus for all students. Pervasive gender violence jeopardizes young people’s ability to succeed in school.
Victims go to great lengths to avoid their perpetrators, including but not limited to:
- Skipping shared classes
- Avoiding libraries or dining halls
- Withdrawing from campus life
Others may face mental health challenges, including but not limited to:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
These effects are magnified when a perpetrator remains on campus with a survivor, and are further exacerbated when schools ignore their legal responsibility to protect students. Without support and accommodations, many survivors see their grades drop as they struggle to participate in, or even attend, their classes; others are forced to leave school temporarily, transfer, or drop out entirely. As a result, survivors are forced to take out additional student loans—often for hundreds of thousands of dollars —to pay for services their schools should have provided or for lost tuition.
Knowledge Concerns: During this time of uncertainty, students need to know that their school has their back and that the policies will remain unchanged. The Dear Colleague Letter helps reduce these knowledge gaps because it describes schools’ obligations under Title IX in a manner that is accessible to students. If the guidance is revised or rescinded, students in the community will be confused about their rights.
Paragraph 4: Talk About Your School’s History On The Issue
For an open letter that is encouraging schools to follow the Dear Colleague Letter and maintain their policies, it is best to describe the policy as the result of years of conversations between students and administrators. The more administrators feel invested in the current policies, the less likely they will be to change them. Here are some sample framing comments:
Uncertainty: DeVos’s actions threaten to plunge campuses into uncertainty. Students and administrators have worked together for six years to develop more effective policies for their campuses. This hard-fought progress is now at risk and schools should stand by the policies that the community has developed collectively.
Don’t Go Backwards: Schools have improved thanks to student activism and the Dear Colleague Letter. Schools should stand by their policies, which will help survivors feel comfortable continuing to report to the school.
Paragraph 5: Make a Clear Ask!
- "We urge you to publicly state your support for and commitment to the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter."
- "We urge you to maintain current policies on campus."
- "We urge you to speak out against Betsy DeVos’s campaign to decrease federal enforcement of Title IX."
Step 5: Host the Letter
We recommend using Google Form and Google Docs to host your letter. While you will have to manually add each signer, it’s quick and easy to use and allows you to vet signatures as they come through. Below is a step-by-step guide to getting your letter up and running.
- Sign in with a Gmail account at drive.google.com.
- Select New → Google Docs
- Write your letter!
- Select New → More → Google Forms
- Create questions to gather information. Suggested questions include: full name, college and graduation year, student organization involvement and role, current job, and/or an email address to receive updates on the letter. Make sure to include the link to the Google Doc in the form description.
- As you receive Form submissions, you will need to manually add each signer's information to the Google Doc. Make sure when sharing the letter that it is set to View Only to prevent others from editing.
Step 6: Spread the Word & Get Signatures
Start by identifying connections to students, alumni, and campus employees. Who do you know? Who do your friends/colleagues know? Who are the student leaders on your campus? Does your school have notable alumni you can contact? Which professors and/or departments can spread the word? It can be helpful to make a list of these connections to stay organized and build a network.
There is power in numbers! The more people you connect with, the more support you’ll garner. Encourage students and alums to ask at least five people they know to sign on. Utilize supportive faculty members by having them promote the letter to their classes. Ask your student body president to sign on and spread the word.
Sharing the letter on social media will be key to getting a large and diverse group of supporters. Post to as many of your school’s Facebook groups as you can, share the link regularly on your Facebook and Twitter timelines, post on alumni boards on LinkedIn, message individual people and clubs, and email listservs. Again, the more people you share your letter with, the more support you’ll get!
Here are some sample tweets you can use to spread the word. Use the hashtags #StopBetsy and #INeedIX:
- [Your school] must commit to upholding Title IX. Sign & share so students have equal access to education [insert link]
- Access to education is a civil right. Sign and share to tell [your school] to uphold protections for survivors: [insert link]
- Schools need to support survivors, regardless of what Betsy DeVos says. Sign to tell [your school] to #StopBetsy: [link here]
Another tactic to spread the word and get signatures is by engaging with high-profile alumni. You can email, tweet at, call, or personally ask high-profile alumni to sign and promote the letter. If you have the capacity, you can create social media content such as a promo video with a high-profile alum/s.
In terms of timeline, we recommend collecting signatures for 4-7 days before delivering the letter to the President.
Step 7: Get media coverage
For more tips, check out our resource, "How Do I Leverage the Media?"
Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor
One of the most successful ways to spread your message on campus is through your school's publications. Powerful “Letters to the Editors” or “Op-Eds” can begin a conversation on campus and loop in students who were not already tied into this issue. Before you begin, it is important to consider a few things:
- How many publications and what kinds of publications does your school have? Do you have a student paper that is circulated every day, is there a monthly student editorial journal, do you have a quarterly student-run magazine?
- Do any of the school publications have a political bias? It is imperative to know your audience and tailor your writing to this. While fighting for an equitable access to education is a non-partisan issue, other topics such as campus carry laws become very divisive. You want to make sure you are not writing a anti-campus carry piece for a school's publication that supports the NRA.
- Who is your audience? For a piece in which you just want to make students aware of a possible impending university policy change, then the daily circulated student newspaper would probably be your best option. For a piece on a recently implemented university policy that violates Title IX, it would be important to get support from alumni, so you would want to place that in a publication that gets sent to alumni networks.
- Are there any restrictions? Some schools only allow students to publish “Letters to the Editors” twice a semester or maybe even twice a year. Make sure that you are using your limited media opportunities to promote a really strong campaign.
A few other things to keep in mind when writing for a busy student body:
- Keep it short. While policy is extremely important, students who have no idea what Title IX is probably will not be inclined to reading a piece full of policy and legislative analysis.
- Make it interesting! A good title or a catchy first line are important to get students to pick up on your piece. A title such as “Tipping the Scales: When *insert school name* Suppresses the Voice of Survivors” would probably cause students to pause.
- Don’t just give data. Students like to hear stories and have non-technical reads so don’t inundate your piece with statistics, as important as they are.
- Loop in many student groups and voices. Students like to read things about their friends. If you see that your roommate was quoted in an article, you would probably be more likely to read it.
- Include a call to action. Your goal is to empower students to take a stand after they read your piece so follow it up with a petition, or an open letter, or an invitation to a protest in campus. It would also be a good idea to link any social media you may have surrounding it, such as a facebook event or group.
News and Opinion Coverage: Pitching Your Story to a Student Reporter or Writer
Depending upon your needs, you may wish to pitch the campaign to a reporter who can provide objective coverage or to an editorial writer in the hopes that they write in support of your campaign. Both of these things are fairly easy to do and we have a couple of quick tips and tricks.
- Email the editor-in chief of the paper. Introduce yourself and the student group you represent. Ask if there are any editors who would be able to write a piece on the issue you are trying to address on your campus. Suggest a few times that you could meet in person and discuss what you would be looking for in the article. Remember that if you are seeking news coverage, you cannot control the end product; you can only provide the reporter with information through interviews, statements, and resources. You will also be expected to explain why this is a relevant story that should receive coverage, and you will likely not get to see the story before it is published.
- What do I do if the reporter doesn't respond? Students have very busy lives. Between balancing academics, extracurriculars, athletics, and a social life, sometimes students do not always answer emails quickly. Give each publication 36 hours to respond. If after 36 hours you do not hear anything, you can send the email again or you can go straight to the publication’s office. In person visits are often the most compelling way to convince someone to write your piece.
- Make your pitch. When you finally set the meeting with an editor, you want to make sure that you have your pitch down. Some key things that you want to mention:
- The issue itself
- Why this issue matters on your campus
- How this is affecting students
- How students can help
- Make sure to vigilantly follow up. You provided the publication with the story so you want to make sure that you are still in charge of how this story is being shaped. If you do not want to include survivor's stories, then make sure that the editor does not. If there are certain policy notes that you think students need to know, make sure they are included. Always follow up with an email putting in writing your key stances and attaching any links about your work or relevant work that they want you to reference. You may ask to review quotes if you have been interviewed for a news story, but be aware that the editors may not allow prior review.
- Always say thank you. While it may sound simple, kindness goes a long way. It is important to establish a nice working relationship with the editors of your school publication. Media is an invaluable tool in spreading your message and you do not want to lose that.
Your editorial or the reporter's story has been published. Now what?
Get National Media Attention
- Share, share, share!!! Email Know Your IX (firstname.lastname@example.org), post it on your Facebook, send it home to your family email chain, do whatever you have to to get the news out and get the story trending!
- Reach out to allies. The hope is that your article was read by a lot of students. It might be a good idea to send an email out to a couple of student groups introducing yourself, referencing your article, and ask if they want to participate in your action.
- Post on Medium. Know Your IX and End Rape On Campus will be compiling open letters from around the country. Create a Medium account, post the letter, and send the link to email@example.com so we can help publicize.
Step 8: Deliver the Open Letter
Option 1: Email Delivery
One individual from the campaign team should email the letter to the University President and copy relevant administrators. The body of the email should include a brief description of the letter and ask, and a breakdown analysis of the alumni who signed (i.e. represented 26 Greek organizations, 4 former Student Body Presidents, 11 athletic teams, 9 schools/colleges, etc). After you email the letter, send a physical copy to the Office of the President.
Option 2: Stage a Direct Action
One way that survivors have received press coverage of petitions and open letters is by staging visually interesting direct actions. In the past, Know Your IX has held rallies at the Department of Education, where we shared survivors’ stories and called for strong enforcement of Title IX.
Students at Columbia have also successfully used mass actions and strong visual elements to raise the profile of their campaigns.
If you are planning a direct action and are interested in national press coverage, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 9: What If They Don’t Listen to Me?
If your school ignores you or puts out a weak statement, it’s time to escalate. Contact us at email@example.com and we can strategize next steps.