Dear Betsy DeVos…

The Georgetown Voice | By – Anonymous

CW: Sexual violence, institutional betrayal

While Betsy DeVos has hurt nearly all students during her time as Secretary of Education, this letter will only address the impact DeVos has had on survivors of sexual violence in colleges and universities. Furthermore, the academic institution to which I will refer is not Georgetown unless explicitly noted; I was sexually assaulted while I was a student at another university. 

 Dear Betsy DeVos,

I was a college student when my life was abruptly and profoundly impacted by sexual violence. Now, although I’m still technically working towards a degree, I don’t consider myself a student anymore. A medical leave turned into a semester off, and one semester turned into three. There are more W’s on my transcript than grades. Unfortunately, my education wasn’t the only thing my rape stole from me; I now live in the body of a person I no longer recognize.

I cannot and will not reveal more about my assault because I refuse to share my story for the first time in any context related to you. I have only given this much information because I want it to be known that I am not writing in the hypothetical. I am writing as someone who has personally experienced what it means to be violated, harassed, and let down by those who are supposed to protect you in the aftermath of it all.

A few days ago, I woke up to a tweet posted by Elizabeth Warren. She shared an article about your resignation and went as far as to dub you as the worst Secretary of Education in our country’s history. When I read that, I laughed out loud—not because it was funny, but because it was true.

I then scrolled through my feed to find more tweets about you: good riddancedon’t let the door hit you on the way out, and thank god. It appears that some people are relieved. I’m still not sure how to articulate the way I am feeling, but I promise you, it is not relief. It’s not joy or happiness. It doesn’t feel like I won something. I think if anything, your resignation feels like a punch in the face.

During your time as Secretary of Education, you rewrote the federal guidance establishing the procedures universities must follow when investigating sexual misconduct. Before delving into your actions specifically, I want it to be known that you managed to exacerbate the cracks in what was already broken. In so many ways, the investigation model that preceded yours was profoundly problematic. Some of the things that I was put through during my ten month-long Title IX investigation violated nearly every right I had but were technically legal under the old federal guidelines. Somehow, you managed to make things even scarier for students—but especially survivors of sexual violence—by giving even more rights to the “accused.”

When reforming the Title IX process, you decided universities must conduct live hearings and cross-examinations. You decided these cross-examinations may be conducted by an advisor of the parties’ choosing. You decided not only legal counsel could serve as advisors, but so could friends and family members.

Being asked insulting questions from my rapist about my drinking habits and my mental health through the school’s investigator was degrading enough. To this day, I find comfort in the fact that he wasn’t there to see me stop interviews so I could leave to cry in the bathroom. Under your guidance, Betsy, I wouldn’t have even been entitled to that courtesy. I could have been asked these questions—in real-time—by his family or his friends, who also happened to be my peers.

Not only are the emotional ramifications bad enough, but the injustices that live hearings in an academic setting present are even worse. Survivors who file Title IX actions are young students. Our brains are not even fully formed, and we have a limited understanding of how the world works. With that being said, how is it fair to expect us to keep up with our schoolwork while navigating a procedure that full-grown adults are not even expected to navigate themselves?

Secondly, you made it so that schools can only investigate sexual misconduct that occurs on campus or at an off-campus location that is officially recognized by the school. This gives organizations like fraternities exponentially more power to perpetuate sexual violence without consequence. Fraternity men are already three times more likely to commit sexual assault than their non-affiliated peers. Scholarly journals have dubbed fraternities as “dangerous places” for women and feminine-presenting individuals because of the pervasive rape culture upon which they are based.

Take this into account, and pair it with the fact that, while most schools recognize their fraternities, not all of them recognize the fraternity houses where too many sexual assaults take place. This is especially dangerous at a school like Georgetown, where neither the fraternities nor the houses are acknowledged by the University. It terrifies me that, under your guidance, my rape and the subsequent harassment I faced would not been investigated solely because of where the assault itself occurred—even though a school-sponsored organization facilitated, enabled, and outwardly covered up what they did to me.

In addition to these atrocities, you also introduced a higher standard of proof, narrowed the definition of sexual harassment, reversed the law that held institutions responsible for investigating sexual misconduct that occurs on study abroad programs, eliminated “gag orders” entirely, and removed any sort of mandatory timeline that universities must follow when completing Title IX investigations.

In a twisted way, I feel lucky that my assault happened when it did because my case just escaped the implementation of your guidance. Imagine what a horrible feeling that is to live with: getting sexually assaulted, and feeling lucky about the timing of it all. I also want you to imagine what a sickening and enraging feeling it is that, because of you, I cannot report my former institution for the gross misconduct, negligence, and bias that they displayed during the investigation. My heart breaks for survivors who are in the same position as me, in addition to those who will not report what happened because of the terrifying process you have created.

I find this situation ironic. Your entire job should have been guided by the principle of protecting students and their right to a fair education—but you managed to do the complete opposite by marginalizing survivors, an already extremely vulnerable group of people.

Sexual violence disrupts, and in extreme cases, destroys one’s ability to perform in school. In 2018, a survey completed by survivors revealed that 64.2% did not finish college on-time, and 67% reported a negative impact on their academic performance. Know that this is something that I relate to profoundly. The Title IX office at my former school was fully unable and unwilling to support my education in the immediate aftermath of what happened to me. Things escalated to such an extent that one day, I threw a couple things in a shopping bag, got on a train, and never went back to school. What is sad is that no one—not even my RA to whom I reported the profound fear I was feeling— realized that I had left.

While my education here has been significantly more supported, I am experiencing similar victimization at Georgetown too, whether it be professors not understanding why I have to miss class, having to explain the intricacies of my post-traumatic stress disorder to justify late assignments, or feeling totally disconnected from my peers because I feel immense pressure to be bright and bubbly (even though all I want to do is scream). To say that this is a lonely way to experience college is an understatement.

Furthermore, it is crucial to note the fact that women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals are already subjected to inherent disadvantages in academia, and members of these communities are also more likely than others to experience sexual violence. With all this taken into account, I can only imagine how your increasingly dysfunctional version of Title IX will impact our abilities to access education fairly. You should have advocated for us. Instead, you decided to strip us of even more power. We didn’t get to control our bodies when we were raped, and because of you, we don’t get to control what happens to us and to our education in the aftermath of this violence.

Betsy, I want you to explain to me how you did all of this proudly and shamelessly, and now, you don’t even have the audacity to stand by your actions until the end of your term—which you have stuck out for years, but you decided to resign with less than two weeks left.

Earlier this week, a violent mob stormed the Capitol to falsely affirm the corrupt presidency of a rapist and a white supremacist. In your letter of resignation, you called this individual’s rhetoric “the inflection point” in your ability to continue working for him. Long story short, when things got too messy, you wrote a little letter, packed up your things, and ran away from the whole disaster in D.C., in which you played a definitive role.

It is insulting that you chose to protect yourself over the students of this country. You had the power to work with other Cabinet members to apply pressure to invoke the 25th Amendment, so he could be removed from office before he could incite more violence. You took the easy way out, and chose to protect your image instead. That is shameful, to say the least.

What’s even more disturbing to me is the fact that you have the privilege to decide when to separate yourself from your policies, but survivors don’t. We will be stuck living under your thumb for the rest of our college experiences, and what we experienced will haunt us for the rest of our lives. We don’t just get to write a letter and run away from these feelings, this victimization, and this injustice. Your departure from the Cabinet is nothing more than a symbol of your privilege, and I resent that wholly.

At the end of a note, one typically presents a hope: I hope you enjoy your dayI hope you understand where I’m coming from, or I hope to hear from you soon—-something along those lines. I have decided that this hope I speak of doesn’t apply here. As you stated in your resignation, you are proud of what you have done, so I am not expecting that this letter will change anything—the same way your letter of resignation doesn’t change anything for me. What I do hope though, is that someday, you can find a way to rationalize to me how you decided that my rapist deserves to be treated with more humanity in the academic setting than I do.


Someone you could have saved


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