Today, we will join the Every Voice coalition in a peaceful demonstration at the State House to request passage of two bills that, if enacted, would increase the safety of students and staff studying and working at colleges and universities.
House bill 4159 would require every Massachusetts college and university to administer an anonymous sexual assault climate survey to their students. And Senate bill 2203 would ensure that the Title IX Guidance on sexual assault reporting and responses issued in 2011 by the Obama administration remain in effect for Massachusetts colleges and universities, even if the federal government issues new recommendations that weaken the 2011 Guidance.
The Every Voice coalition is a student-led group that includes survivors, advocates, and experts who believe that a campus climate survey is the first step toward making Massachusetts colleges and universities safer for students and staff. The coalition is advised by a five-member board consisting of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Jane Doe Inc., End Rape On Campus, SurvJustice, and Know Your IX. To date, nearly 55,000 people have signed Every Voice’s Care2 petition requesting passage of the Sexual Assault Climate Survey Bill.
The Sexual Assault Climate Survey Bill, if passed, would be an important first step in fostering social change on college campuses around the issue of sexual assault and abuse. By merely asking students about their experiences, it tells them that the school is interested in hearing from them and also wants to learn from students about the occurrence of sexual harassment and assault on campus.
An anonymous survey will also make it easier for students to participate, particularly those who are typically marginalized, as it will permit every student to participate without fear that their personal information will be shared with anyone else.
Having a uniform survey for each college also ensures that the same questions are being asked of every student regardless of where they attend school. This is the best practice to use in the collection of population survey data. A uniform survey for colleges and universities also means that when guidelines are created to promote public health and safety, they will be informed by the cleanest data possible.
Our work has taught us that survivors often choose to keep a sexual assault to themselves. They may fear retaliation, feel deep shame, or need to maintain their relationship with the offender, who may be in the same classes or live in the same dorm. This is why sexual violence is truly a “silent epidemic.” To end it, we need more and better information. Anonymous climate surveys give people who are not ready to disclose or simply do not wish to disclose their assaults the anonymity needed to inform efforts to measure the true extent of sexual harassment and assault on campuses.
Meanwhile, we cannot afford to risk the gains made since 2011 when the Obama Administration issued Title IX Guidance to schools about how to respond to and reduce incidents of sexual harassment and assault on campuses. The current administration has backed away from that guidance. But we can cofidy it into state law to ensure that colleges and universities continue the work that began seven years ago.
Katia Santiago-Taylor, BARCC’s advocacy and legislative affairs manager, is speaking at the Every Voice rally at the State House today, and she will also offer testimony on both bills on Thursday, April 12, before the House Ways & Means Committee.