In 2011, during her sophomore year at Amherst College, Dana Bolger was raped. When she felt the school officials in whom she confided did not take her rape seriously, she dropped out. Unfortunately, Bolger’s experience is not rare; according to the White House report on sexual assault, it is estimated that one in five women on college and university campuses have been sexually assaulted.
A semester later, Bolger returned to Amherst, joining a support group of women who had experienced similar trauma. Hearing others’ stories and realizing her experience was all too common, she resolved to address the epidemic of rape and sexual violence at institutions of higher learning nationwide.
She confronted the issue head on, telling her story and the stories of other women who had also been sexually assaulted at school. When Amherst officials remained reticent to speak about the widespread problem and enact reforms to protect women, Bolger and fellow classmates Sonum Dixit, Kinjal Patel and Nancy Yun Tang took action—creating an online magazine in 2013 to highlight the violence taking place at Amherst.
Called It Happens Here, Bolger’s webzine features content including an article about sexist T-shirts worn by fraternity members and a photo essay of students and alumni from various institutions of higher learning—all of whom are survivors of sexual violence—holding signs emblazoned with heartless comments they heard from other students and faculty when they shared their experiences of assault. The publication garnered much attention and jump-started critical dialogue that led to reforms designed to keep students safer. In 2012, Amherst instituted several reforms to its sexual assault hearing process, such as allowing parties to submit personal statements and hiring a trained investigator to meet with survivors.
Bolger continued her work post-graduation. In 2014, she co-founded, with Alexandra Brodsky, “Know Your IX.” The national, grassroots organization is run by survivors of sexual violence and their allies. It aims to end sexual assault on campus by educating students across the country about their civil right to an education free from sexual violence under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments—an anti-discrimination law that requires colleges and universities receiving federal funding to combat gender-based violence and harassment and to respond to survivors’ needs to ensure all students have equal access to education.
By enlightening college students about their right to be protected and teaching them to push for policies that ensure better enforcement of laws tied to the issue of sexual violence on campus, Know Your IX is making a significant impact. Since the founding of Know Your IX, several students have either cited the law as grounds for filing federal complaints or for initiating civil lawsuits, especially when the colleges and campuses refused to take action.
Today, as a contributor to Feministing.com, Bolger continues to bravely advocate, telling her story again and again in the hopes that those who hear it will be spared a similar experience, and possibly, become part of the growing number of young people bonding together to make it safer for students to pursue higher education.