U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, hosted a roundtable discussion on May 1 in Nott Memorial centered on recently reintroduced legislation geared toward improving the resources available to victims of sexual violence on college campuses and the process of adjudicating such cases.
“We need to professionalize the process,” said Gillibrand, emphasizing reforms to the adjudication process that the bill, known as the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, proposes. She stated, “It’s now going to be in the best interest of schools to actually get it right.”
Students, faculty and staff from Union and various other Capital Region colleges participated in the panel discussion, as did members of the Schenectady Police Department. Several members of the panel expressed their thoughts and concerns about the bill.
Shayna Han ’15 brought the focus of the conversation to the topic of consent, stating, “The word consent needs to be introduced to students long before they come to college.” Gillibrand agreed, saying, “Having our boys be responsible for what consent actually means is essential.”
When University at Albany officials spoke, the senator thanked the SUNY system for endorsing the legislation, telling the officials, “It shows schools aren’t afraid of this.”
The bill would mandate that colleges and universites each have at least one designated confidential advisor whose job it would be to provide victims of sexual violence with information regarding the victim’s rights and options for reporting the crime, including reporting to college officials or local law enforcement.
Gillibrand emphasized the role of the confidential advisor, stating, “Whatever happened to you, you’d have one place to go to tell it, to know what your options are, to know what resources are available so that you can decide, on your own time, when you want to report and if you want to report.”
Confidential advisors would have to undergo special training, which would be based on guidelines issued by the Department of Education, according to Gillibrand.
The bill also requires all schools to utilize a “uniform, campus-wide process for student disciplinary proceeding(s) relating to claim(s) of sexual violence” and to coordinate with local law enforcement so that investigations can occur without debates over jurisdiction.
Under the legislation, schools would be required to administer a biennial survey where students can give accounts of their experiences with sexual violence on their campuses.
Gillibrand stressed the importance of implementing such reforms, stating, “A typical rapist who commits rape on a college campus will do so six times in his college career.”
The bill has bipartisan support. Gillibrand and nine other cosponsors, four of whom are Democrats and five of whom are Republicans, introduced the legislation in February. It has since garnered further support and currently has 32 cosponsors, comprised of 12 Republicans and 20 Democrats, according to a May 1 news release.
Union has been instating its own reforms on campus, independent of federal legislation, to raise student awareness of sexual violence. The college was among the first to participate in the “It’s On Us” campaign, which “seeks to engage college students and all members of campus communities in preventing sexual assault in the first place,” according to the White House.
Union has also implemented bystander intervention training, which teaches students to identify and intervene in situations where sexual violence is possible. On Tuesday, Dean of Students Steve Leavitt emailed upperclassmen with the announcement that in order to register for fall term classes, they must complete “Think About It,” an online course that educates students about relationships and sexual violence.
Two sexual assaults have been reported to Union’s Campus Safety Department since the beginning of 2015, according to crime and fire logs published in the Concordiensis. The first was reported on Feb. 24 at 4:30 p.m., though the crime and fire log states that the assault occurred during fall term, and the second was reported on April 27 at 4:18 p.m.
President Stephen C. Ainlay stated in a May 1 news release, “At Union, we are committed to working together to make sure that everyone understands that sexual misconduct, harassment and violence are unacceptable and that there is no place for these behaviors in our community or on any college campus.”