About 40 students and community members gathered outside the Media and Public Affairs building Thursday morning to protest Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ appearance at a State Department event.
DeVos’ presence at a U.S.-China cultural dialogue in the Jack Morton Auditorium ignited outrage among student and community advocates for sexual assault survivors who said they felt targeted by DeVos’ recent actions on Title IX enforcement.
Members of student groups including Students Against Sexual Assault and Young Progressives Demanding Action, held signs reading “support trans students” and “stand with survivors,” and chanted “Betsy DeVos, you’re no good, support survivors like you should.”
Alexa Grasfield, co-president of SASA, said students scrambled within the last day to coordinate the rally and voice their opposition to DeVos’ move to roll back Obama-era directives on sexual assault enforcement.
“She has made clear that she aligns a lot with perpetrators’ stories,” she said about DeVos. “We want to make sure that she is listening to and believing survivors and supporting them.”
Bailey Bystry, vice president of SASA, said the demonstration showed support for sexual assault survivors and transgender students and would hopefully educate the Foggy Bottom community about efforts to advocate for and protect survivors.
“It’s important to lean on people you trust and lean on this community,” Bystry said. “Community support is just as valid as federal support, so even if this federal support doesn’t feel as strong as it once was – isn’t strong as it once was legally – it’s still nice to know that you can fall back on your community, you can fall back on your friends.”
A handful of students spoke before the rally, including Aniqa Raihan, an alumna and sexual assault survivor who led a slew of petitions and protests last semester after she found the outcome of her sexual assault case to be unfair.
Raihan said she joined the rally to show support for Title IX and tell DeVos that she doesn’t represent her community.
“She doesn’t speak for us,” Raihan said.
Addressing the crowd, Raihan said during her case process, she fully realized the importance of Title IX and said the Trump administration is falling short in its support for survivors.
“The prior administration had at the very least put into writing that they support survivors,” she said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was something.”
Keiko Tsuboi, the chapter leader of Young Progressives Demanding Action, said she helped work on various aspects of the protest, including making flyers and gathering student support.
“It was a really collaborative effort and I think that’s why I’m proud of it,” she said. “We can just come together for a good cause, which in this case is just letting Betsy know that we’re here and that college campuses and survivors and allies are largely against her actions and we always will be, and we’ll always be loud.”
Chris Labas, a neighbor in Foggy Bottom, said that he felt as an American citizen it was important to stand up for Title IX protections and said he would tell DeVos to “go home.”
“I’m gay and so the stuff that Betsy DeVos is trying to advocate now with her agenda against trans students and gay students, I’m here to fight against it,” Labas said.
Meredith Roaten contributed reporting.