Well, I finally survived April. I survived balancing school with homework with my internship with planning and attending a billion Sexual Assault Awareness Month events. It was crazy and completely worth it but I’m glad it’s May. DC is 22 days away!
April was stressful and challenging but on the first day of May something amazing happened: I met Kirsten Gillibrand and spoke on a panel with her about college sexual assault.
Sometimes working as an activist to educate others and end sexual violence is like fighting an uphill battle. People ask me what I’m doing with my life or say things like “oh, cool” when I tell them I intern at The Advocacy Center. I’ve facilitated education events where participants challenge everything I say. I once put on an event where a professional staff member at my college showed up, said nothing to me or any of the other organizers, and congratulated the all-male fraternity for attending such an event.
But then one of my fellow peer educators at The Advocacy Center invited me to drive to Elmira College with her to see Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and to speak on a roundtable on college sexual assault with her. It was an amazing opportunity. We drove up early in the morning and we were expecting to just listen to the Senator speak the entire time. What I was wasn’t expecting was to walk into to see my name on a lamented card surrounded by college officials, legal professionals, Title IX Coordinators, and other advocates. It was a combination of all the voices necessary to really start a productive conversation on this topic. If we want to make a change, we have to talk about the problem first.
Sometimes, when I follow political campaigns, it’s clear that some politicians make statements on issue in order to procure votes from a certain demographic. When I was listening to Kirsten Gillibrand speak on Friday, I could tell that she was truly passionate about the issue and implementing legislation that holds perpetrators and colleges accountable. In her new bill that is currently going through the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), seeks to create more transparency, establish confidential advisors who are properly trained for students to disclose to if there’s an assault.
Colleges and Universities have historically swept sexual assault under the rug by mishandling cases, deterring reporting, and downplaying the issue. The majority of schools are more likely to expel someone for cheating and dishonesty than for committing a violent crime. I think the important thing to remember about campus sexual violence is that perpetrators of these crimes would be committing these acts out in the “real world” so these perpetrators shouldn’t be protected just because they are in the bubble of a college community. Under Title IX, schools are required to protect students from any form of gender-based discrimination that might prevent a student from successfully completing their education. Walking around a small campus bubble in fear of running into your perpetrator and being pelted with personal questions by school officials about what happened to you, is enough to deter someone from coming forward. But colleges (that students are paying a ton of money to attend) have an obligation to do something about this. Students deserve to be kept safe and students who commit crimes deserve to face consequences for those crimes.
This year has come with many challenges but also many many rewards and speaking on that panel was one of them. The panel was short so when they announced that it was time for the last comment I raised my hand and Senator Gillibrand called me by my first name. I grabbed hold of a microphone and spoke about my experience as an activist at Ithaca College and the behavior of campus administrators. When I finished, Senator Gillibrand thanked me for sharing my story.
Lately, I’ve been having a semi-panic attack about being almost two years into college, turning twenty, moving away from home for the first time, etc. and I’ve been questioning a lot of things in my life. But meeting and speaking on a panel on college sexual violence seemed to bring everything from the past couple of years together and make it all worth it.
Here’s a couple of links and news clips of the event:
I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to speak up about this issue.