The "Dear Betsy" hashtag isn't a letter-writing campaign — it's the latest way women are hoping to secure their rights during the Trump administration.
Activists launched the campaign — targeted at Betsy Devos, Trump's pick for secretary of education — to tell her how much campus anti-rape protections mean to them. The Obama administration has strengthened protections under Title IX over the last eight years, and activists from End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX say they want DeVos to do the same.
"#DearBetsy aims to push Betsy DeVos to commit to supporting survivors and enforce Title IX," Mahroh Jahangiri of Know Your IX told Revelist. "We also hope to remind senators before the [Senate confirmation hearing] that anything less than these commitments by the nominees should be treated as disqualifying."
The "Dear Betsy" campaign urges DeVos to commit to several things during her Senate confirmation hearing, originally scheduled for January 11.
First, the activists want DeVos to maintain current Department of Education (DOE) standards for handling sexual assault. An historic letter from the DOE in 2011 decreed sexual assault a form of gender discrimination. It required all schools receiving federal funds to take specific steps to prevent and respond to reports of assault. A 2016 letter clarified that these protections apply to transgender students, too.
Among other things, these letters require schools to adhere to a lower standard of proof — a "preponderance of evidence" standard — than previously used in sexual assault cases. The activists want schools to continue using this standard, even after Obama leaves office.
Finally, the activists want the DOE to continue publishing the names of schools under investigation for Title IX violations. Hundreds of colleges and universities were investigated during the Obama administration for mishandling reports of sexual assault. Three hundred schools currently remain under investigation.
The "Dear Betsy" campaigners fear that if they don't speak up, these protections could be lost for good.
DeVos has yet to voice her opinion on Title IX protections, but activists have a few reasons to be wary. DeVos' foundation has donated to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE — a group which is currently suing the DOE for its Title IX enforcement. She has also donated to anti-LGBTQ groups, like Focus on the Family, which anti-sexual assault advocates see as a warning sign.
"[The donations] are worrisome for us because LGBT students deserve to be safe on campus," Sofie Karasek of End Rape on Campus told Revelist. "And also, LGBTQ students experience disproportionately high rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment."
That’s why the campaigners want survivors and allies to reach out to DeVos before her confirmation.
The "Dear Betsy" campaign urges supporters to make 30-second videos telling DeVos why Title IX protections are important to them. They also have a petition for visitors to sign, and a #DearBetsy hashtag to use when expressing support.
Ultimately, the organizers just want to raise awareness of the importance of Title IX protections in general.
"A lot of people still think Title IX pertains only to athletics, so it's important for us to remind folks that this right to an educational experience free from sexual harassment and sexual violence is guaranteed," Karasek said.