“No, you’re not at fault,” declared Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul to all survivors of sexual assault during her talk in the Nott Memorial on Tuesday, October 11. Faculty, staff and students gathered to hear Hochul speak about the governor’s “Enough is Enough” legislative initiative, which aims to combat sexual assault on New York college campuses and encourage students to report cases.
Addressing the students in the audience, Hochul continued: “You have a right to be free from unwanted touching of someone else. That is how it is in our country, and that is the respect we should show each other.” Founded on this basic right, the new legislation, passed in June 2015, ensures that all colleges are required to enact a set of policies and guidelines ranging from a statewide, uniform definition of affirmative consent to a statewide amnesty policy.
The new law also requires campuses to distribute a “Student’s Bill of Rights” to all students, which clarifies the legal rights and available resources of sexual assault victims. To expand these resources, members of the campus community will undergo new required training sessions, and a new sexual assault victims unit within the State Police will be created and tasked with responding to sexual assault-type crimes and training local police in the handling of such cases.
Lastly, “Enough is Enough” requires colleges to submit annual incident reports of sexual
violence to the State Education Department, to be then made public online.
Before inviting Student Forum President Audrey Hunt ’17, Speaker’s Forum President Andrew Cassarino ’18, and Lieutenant Governor Hochul to speak, President Stephen Ainlay first reminded the audience of his opening convocation speech and the Union community’s obligation to come together respect one another. President Ainlay said that he was pleased to see the Union community taking sexual assault so seriously, and pointed to Union’s involvement in campaigns such as “It’s On Us.” “I want to take the opportunity to thank the students, faculty and staff that have joined in our efforts to make sure that this is a safe environment where mutual respect is the governing rule,” expressed Ainlay. Ainlay also welcomed Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy to campus for the talk.
After his brief introduction, Ainlay invited Hunt onstage, who he mentioned as demonstrating “remarkable leadership.” Hunt emphasized that she was proud to be part of discussions around sexual assault, and urged her fellow students and especially student leaders to stay involved in the conversation. “We, as students, are the largest part of this community, and as thus we contribute the most to the atmosphere here at Union,” affirmed Hunt. “I know I speak for all members of the Union community when I say that we do not tolerate violence of any form.”
Hunt focused on the new initiatives on campus, such as the #AskMe bystander campaign, which will feature #Ambassadors charged with leading programming on respecting others and their values.
Closing her speech by thanking the student body and by recognizing the new Title IX Coordinator Melissa Kelley for their commitment to making Union a “safe and supportive environment for every person,” Hunt passed the podium over to Cassarino.
Cassarino proceeded to give a brief account of Lieut. Governor Hochul’s personal and political history. Of Irish heritage, Hochul grew up in Buffalo, NY, and attended first Syracuse University and then the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to obtain her law degree in 1984.
Initially working for a private law firm, Hochul soon transitioned into public service as legal counsel-legislative assistant for first U.S. Representative John LaFalce and later U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan. Hochul, her mother and aunt together founded the Kathleen Mary House, a transitional home for victims of domestic violence.
Winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in a 2011 special election, Hochul was what Cassarino described as a “champion of the underdog, [and] was willing to take any fight head-on.”
Surrendering the podium, Cassarino welcomed the Lieutenant Governor to the stage.
Before launching into the heart of her talk, Hochul thanked Ainlay, Hunt and Cassarino for the introduction. She encouraged students to apply to her office as interns, and to generally take advantage of all the opportunities at Union. College, Hochul described is a “chance to redefine yourself,” especially at such an “incredible institution” as Union.
Hochul reminiscenced about her days at Syracuse University, where she was a student activist and vice president in the student government. She recalled how there were six rapes in her first week at Syracuse, all perpetrated by one man she described as a “stranger.” In response, her parents were ready to bring her home. “Once that person was arrested and removed, the assaults stopped,”
Hochul used this example to describe the bigger picture of sexual assault at college campuses. “What is going on in this environment … is that one out of four women is reporting that they’ve been sexually assaulted while on campus,” stated Hochul. Furthermore, Hochul was amazed that “in 80 to 90 percent of the cases, the victim knew their assailant.” But one statistic was of particular interest to Hochul: sexual assaults “are committed by 3 percent of the population.” Hochul described these as “serial rapists” and “predators” who were committing a real “crime” repeatedly and deliberately, and who be arrested and tried in court and if the assaults were committed off-campus. “I don’t think there should be any different standard when [sexual assault] happens on a campus,” Hochul asserted.
Hochul discussed how young men’s lives could be ruined by “crossing a line on a Friday or Saturday night.” Having spent so much time and effort to get into college, a sexual assault could ruin the future of both the assailant and the survivor.
Hochul also questioned the audience, “How would you feel if someone did that to your sister?”
Using the phrase “campus family,” Hochul emphasized, “We all look out for each other.” She encouraged students to be active bystanders – “upstanders,” as other colleges have termed it.
For victims of sexual assault, Hochul mentioned the resources available, remarking, “It is so painful to go through this alone.” The most important resource for victims in Hochul’s opinion is professional help; after the assault, they need someone who can say, “It’s not your fault; we’re in this with you; you’re going to be ok.”
Describing a moving encounter with a survivor of sexual assault who did not seek help, Hochul pressed that we need “to create a culture here where people don’t feel stigmatized, where they can come forward” so that they can get the resources they need.
Hochul reminded the audience how there was a “culture of acceptance” surrounding domestic violence that has now been dispelled. “We can do the same for sexual assault on college campuses,” insisted Hochul.
While there might be an increase in the number of sexual assaults reported as it becomes more acceptable to do so, Hochul cautioned the audience not to worry. Eventually, she stated, these will decrease as people learn that sexual assault is not to be tolerated.
Hochul then turned to one of the big questions addressed by the “Enough is Enough” legislation. “What is sexual assault?” she asked. From the SUNYs to the private colleges, Hochul explained that every college in New York seemed to have a different definition. The new legislation brings uniformity to the colleges, and also introduces “affirmative consent.” “Now, in the State of New York, she has to say yes,” Hochul stated, dispelling the idea that no response is consent.
Beyond her talk, Hochul hoped students would carry her message forward. “I’m calling on the student leaders: you know your campus better than anybody. Find out the ways that you can touch students with regularity so it does start being part of their consciousness, that we respect people, we don’t tolerate this, and if you’ve been subjected to this, come forward in a way that you can start healing,” Hochul urged.
Speaking of the recent developments in national politics during the last week, specifically the comments made by Republican candidate Donald Trump, Hochul stated: “That is not America. That is not who we are.” She continued, “There is no locker-room in this country where the language that we heard this past week is tolerated.”
“Real men don’t talk like that,” Hochul affirmed. Asking the young people in the audience not to look towards national politics as a guide, Hochul urged them to look to themselves, to be their own models and voices of change. “This is your cause, in my judgment: to wipe out any of the perceptions that some of these messed-up adults will say is acceptable, because it is just not,” Hochul maintained, looking to the students in the audience.
Hochul envisioned a future where parents would send their children to college in New York state because here are “the toughest laws in the nation protecting young people from sexual assault.”
Thanking the audience for the opportunity to speak, Hochul left the stage and started speaking with both students and press.