We, the undersigned students of Harvard University, write to condemn Harvard’s complicity in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s destructive policies and her attacks on survivors, students, and public education.
Last Friday, the Department of Education released a Dear Colleague Letter that withdrew critical Title IX guidance on campus sexual violence. This letter was the result of meetings with so-called “men’s rights activists,” who have dismissed sexual violence, endorsed victim-blaming tactics, and opposed protections for LGBTQ+ people. It was signed by Candice Jackson, head of the Department’s Office for Civil Rights, who claimed that 90 percent of campus sexual assault accusations are false. This unsubstantiated narrative of false accusations merely serves to silence survivors and invalidate their experiences.
In interim guidance, the Department has allowed schools to revert from the preponderance of the evidence standard to a “clear and convincing” standard. This is problematic because it fails to allow all parties a level playing field. It advocates an interim measures process under which the burden to seek accommodations rests on survivors. In addition, it withdraws school accountability for 60-day investigations, allowing drawn-out processes that are often re-traumatizing and unfair to all parties involved. These measures are unjust to survivors.
On Harvard’s campus, the far reach of rape culture is well-documented. According to survey data, 19.9 percent of women, 5.2 percent of men, and 27.5 percent of trans and gender nonconforming students at Harvard reported experiencing sexual assault during their time in college, and offenders include faculty members. Yet unlike many other schools, Harvard has failed to publicly affirm that improvements to our policy made under the 2011 guidance and Title IX investigation against the University—including the adoption of the preponderance of the evidence standard—will not be rolled back. It has failed to commit to continue improving the policy, regardless of federal standards. And it has failed to commit its significant influence to ensure that survivors’ rights are maintained in new Title IX rules and regulations. This makes Harvard complicit in DeVos’s agenda to silence survivors.
The Harvard administration’s failure to protect survivors also extends to graduate student workers. Harvard continues to block efforts to hold a new and fair student union election as recently ordered by the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board, choosing instead to file an appeal to the Trump NLRB that threatens the foundations of fair union elections across the country. A union contract allows for the establishment of a neutral process completely removed from the University’s bureaucracy to handle sexual harassment complaints. The recent complaints filed to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a faculty member at University of Rochester continue to highlight why such alternative measures are required. Given the uncertainty at the national level, the Harvard administration should be standing with its student workers rather than actively thwarting efforts to establish more robust protections against sexual assault and other forms of discrimination on our campus.
In addition to the recent Title IX reversals, Secretary DeVos’s agenda advocates scaling back federal regulations and returning public education in the United States to de facto segregation, a phenomenon already occurring under the guise of “school choice.” Harvard’s invitation for Secretary DeVos to give the keynote at a pro-school choice conference, which fails to include any critics of this stance on education policy, legitimizes her opinion as the most salient solution for issues in public education. We believe that Secretary DeVos is unqualified to lead “A Conversation on Empowering Parents” as her policies are yet another example of how the education of Black, Latinx, and other marginalized communities are unaccountably placed in the hands of private entities. Additionally, because research shows that school vouchers effectively subsidize segregation and disproportionately serve white middle class students, we question whose parents her initiatives supposedly “empower.”
In rolling back restrictions for for-profit colleges and hiring former for-profit college officials, Secretary DeVos legitimizes the dangerous and unchecked systems that for-profit colleges use to further disenfranchise vulnerable populations. Secretary DeVos recently attempted to simplify the narrative of victims of for-profit college defraudment to just wanting free money in order to promote her agenda. Secretary DeVos’s poor understanding of predatory lending relates to her inexperience with school loans, another federal program that stands to lose protections As an elite institution, Harvard should be deeply concerned at the Secretary’s efforts to enable an elite few to profit from higher education. We urge our fellow students and the greater Harvard community to question our complicity in this administration’s wielding of white supremacy and toxic toppling of public education.
We, the undersigned, support students and survivors in all communities. In lieu of our University, we chose to stand in opposition to the leadership of the Department of Education and the plundering policies for which it stands.
Our Harvard Can Do Better
Harvard Graduate School of Education Students for Education Justice
Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW Organizing Committee
Harassment/Assault Law-Student Team
Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19 is a Social Studies concentrator in Adams House. She writes on behalf of Our Harvard Can Do Better. Andrew Greenia is a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He writes on behalf of Harvard Graduate School of Education Students for Education Justice. Niharika N. Singh is a doctoral student in public policy at the Graduate School of Arts and Science. She writes on behalf of Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW Organizing Committee.
The Ripple EffectBeing sexually assaulted had paradoxically made me ignore his sense of safety and his agency. I was passing on to him the burden of my assault without his consent.
Sexual Assault IS Our FaultAs founders of the Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign, we write to clarify how rape culture operates and how it complicates the responsibility of community members.
Sexual Assault Bill Author Encourages Youth ActivismAmanda N. Nguyen ’13, founder and president of advocacy group Rise, criticized the lack of support the legal system affords sexual assault victims and emphasized young people’s ability to change that system during an address in Currier House Monday.
Why We Need Title IXTitle IX has given survivors a voice, and Harvard is listening, but without proper enforcement, students who experience sexual violence will no longer be given the time and support they need to heal and continue their educations.
If Betsy DeVos Won’t Do It, Harvard MustHarvard must combat the narrative of DeVos’s decision—automatically doubting survivors’ allegations of sexual assault—and, instead, fully attend to students involved in sexual harassment cases.