The Holiday season can be an especially hard time to be a survivor. It can be a time when you find yourself stuck in conversations with families and loved ones about their harmful opinions on the Me Too Movement or Brett Kavanaugh. These conversations can be triggering and angering. Not too mention you might feel the pressure not to “ruin the meal” by standing up for yourself and your beliefs.

Thanks to Betsy DeVos’ recent attacks on Title IX, we will surely see dinner tables across the country tackling conversations about sexual assault in schools. Because of this, we want to provide you with resources to disrupt the utopia that is the American family, and to help them understand your perspective as a survivor or anti-violence advocate.

Come to dinner or the holiday gathering prepared:

Although you are likely aware of Betsy DeVos’ proposed rules on Title IX, what they mean, and how they will affect survivors in K-12 schools and colleges across the country– make sure to brush up on some of the finer details before you head to dinner. During the meal, emotions will be running high and you may feel overwhelmed with how much you want to say, but unsure of how to express yourself. Consider even making some talking points about the most salient features of the rule and how it affects students’ civil rights. It can’t hurt to be over-prepared when having a heavy discussion, especially when you may be speaking with relatives who are less versed on these issues.

As a reminder, here are some of the most prominent changes DeVos is proposing:

  1. Only requiring schools to investigate and respond to violence and harassment that occurs on campus or within a university program. Meaning, students that are raped in their off-campus apartment would still have to share a classroom with their rapist.
  2. Limits the definition of sexual harassment and requires schools to investigate the most extreme forms of harassment and assault. That means students would be forced to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse without being able to ask their schools for help.
  3. Allow schools to adopt a higher standard of proof for sexual harassment complaints, as opposed to other serious, nonsexual campus misconduct.This proposal relies on age-old stereotypes that women and girls “cry rape” and are less credible.
  4. Allow schools to retroactively claim exemptions from Title IX after already discriminating against a student.  

Explain not just what is in the rule, but how it would impact students:

Perhaps a relative might believe it seems reasonable that schools would only have jurisdiction over actions that occur on their campus. They may be unaware that 87% of students live off-campus and that there are many events directly associated with the school that do not take place on campus. Simultaneously, when you take that step further and explain that an event that happens in an off-campus apartment can drastically affect someone’s ability to learn when they feel unsafe attending classes or unable to focus on assignments, you can demonstrate the longer-lasting effects of violence, and why Title IX’s purpose is to help mitigate these effects.

Know what counterarguments the media is discussing:

Your relatives may bring up counterarguments they’ve seen discussed in the media, especially if that is their only exposure to information surrounding DeVos’ new rule. For example, many sources have been framing the rule as a clash between the rights of survivors’ and accused students. Explain to your family and friends that on the contrary, these rules are about letting schools ignore sexual violence and harassment, rather than actually providing due process for both parties. Additionally, point out that the new system will actually hinder due process on the part of survivors, as they are designed to cast immediate doubt on students’ coming forward with complaints of harassment and assault. This could be especially challenging for communities who are historically disbelieved– such as communities of color, transgender and gender non-conforming students, and immigrant communities. Or by allowing schools to only use the “clear and convincing” standard for sexual misconduct cases, even if they use “preponderance of the evidence” for all other cases of non sexual violence or discrimination. As our co-founder Dana Bolger explains, this aspect of the rule is blatantly anti-survivor and deeply “rooted in sex stereotypes and rape myths that insist sexual harassment reports deserve special skepticism.”

Introduce issues that are often left out of the conversation:

For example, the proposed Title IX rules do not just affect colleges and universities, they also affect K-12 students, like the 6th grader who is being faced with sexual comments online about her body for the first time, the middle schooler teased and tormented based on his sexual orientation or gender identity, or the 14-year-old raped by her classmate at a party. Introducing a more nuanced aspect to the issue than they may be aware of will help them visualize the rule in a new light, and potentially reevaluate their approach to the problem.

Share the call to action:

If you feel your relatives are receptive to your argument and their beliefs are beginning to shift, give them a call to action! Explain the Notice & Comment process, what it involves, and why it’s so important to participate. Pull your phone out and point them to knowyourIX.org for online resources, so that they feel prepared to write a strong and successful comment once the comment period opens.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself:

This work is hard, and can be draining. Make sure you have a plan for how to engage in self-care. Before starting or engaging in conversations about sexual violence, establish clear boundaries with yourself about what you are willing and comfortable talking about. That way you know when to tap out of a conversation, or can avoid sharing personal details while frustrated with your uncle or cousin. If you’re not someone who regularly engages in self-care, make a list of coping skills you can have at the ready. If you need some space, it’s ok to go for a walk and set aside breaks.