The American college experience has been romanticized by both the media and American families alike, as it is comprised of four years of freedom before childhood truly ends and adulthood begins. Young adults are encouraged to spend their days studying their passions, but at the same time, they are able to utilize their free time however they wish. Because of both the free time that students have unbound from parental and societal pressure, students are able to determine what behavior is and is not acceptable in society. This is one of the most important aspects of college: the immense maturing that is done over the short span of four years. However, some of this socialization takes place at house parties, which can lead to dangerous situations, including unsolicited behavior from other students. This is also known as sexual assault, and in this way, colleges are facing their own kind of epidemic.
Sexual assault used to be a taboo subject, and in some cases, it still is. In many people’s eyes, the repercussions of coming forward, both socially and professionally, are too damaging to even consider getting justice. This idea has become normalized in American society, and has also spread to college campuses. It is imperative that we take action as soon as possible to end the cycle of injustice regarding sexual assault, and with the prevelance of survivors on social media, it is getting easier to do so.
In recent years, survivors have been utilizing social media to come forward about their experiences of sexual assault. This avenue allows for survivors to remain completely anonymous and seek justice through the simplicity of storytelling, instead of requiring legal action. These accounts are now increasing in number among college communities.
Connecticut colleges are not immune to the staggering amounts of stories that have been published online about sexual assault in places of higher education. The University of Connecticut, for example, is being targeted by students who have been assaulted on campus via an Instagram account titled “UConn Survive.” Trinity College, Connecticut College, Wesleyan University and other colleges in Connecticut have also created Instagram accounts for survivors to share their stories. This is one form of power that students have exercised to fight against the stigma of sexual assault on campuses, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that they can do. Students should have access to these accounts if that is the way that they want to seek justice, but if students want to pursue legal action, it becomes hard for them to do so. Though some colleges do have ways to report sexual assault, most cases go unreported. This means that students, both present and future, do not have access to the information that they need to feel safe on campus. This prevents justice concerning sexual assault, which is both a danger to survivors and those who have not encountered sexual assault.
Some may argue that Title IX regulations provide adequate protection for survivors of sexual assault, and this may be an avenue that survivors prefer to take when seeking justice. It is up to the survivor if and how they want to report the crime committed against them. However, stating that Title IX regulations enable all survivors to have an accessible path to justice could not be further from the truth. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, an estimated 5 percent of students choose to report their assault to university officials, but it is obvious that there is a reason that students refuse to file a report. Some students may feel embarrassed, but primarily, students are barred by Title IX regulations from seeking the justice that they deserve. As covered in Harvard University’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, even Harvard students have criticized DeVos’ new Title IX regulations, describing them as unclear and actively working to strip rights from survivors of sexual assault. Title IX regulations have also been updated during one of the most stressful world events, which is concerning when considering the importance of these regulations. Due to DeVos’s decisions concerning Title IX regulations, sexual assaulters are able to roam free on college campuses while students are left to question the validity of their claims, emotions and safety.
This injustice is not at all what we Connecticut students should be standing for.
Connecticut residents Ali Hagani and Alex Dahlem have realized this, and have been working on passing Senate Bill 19, which would drastically change the conversation around sexual assault in higher education.
Hagani has been writing Senate Bill 19, a bill that aims to protect survivors of sexual assault on college campuses, since 2019. SB-19 would require every college in Connecticut to quadrennially administer a campus-wide climate survey in order to collect the data that colleges need to make accurate and effective decisions when creating rules, regulations and laws regarding sexual assault. SB-19 would also require that Connecticut colleges adopt an amnesty policy that would prevent survivors of sexual assault from being punished if they were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol when the sexual assault took place. SB-19 would revolutionize the amount of information available to students and higher education employees regarding sexual assault, which would in turn create a safer environment in which college students can thrive. It would also help to counteract the consequences of the new Title IX legislation that haunts every student on a college campus.
Now more than ever, it is imperative that students and staff at Connecticut colleges unite to create a lasting change on a statewide level. SB-19 would not only allow students to feel safe, but it would also protect any staff member who was assaulted on campus. This means that this piece of legislation, if passed, would not only protect you, but everyone around you as well.
There is one problem though: SB-19 has not been passed by Connecticut’s legislators yet.
Since COVID-19 hit America, most legislative offices have shut down as well. This shutdown is still effective in many states–Connecticut being one of them. Since the shutdown, there has been one special session in which legislators from Connecticut reviewed important bills regarding COVID-19, police accountability and other social issues. SB-19 did not make the list of bills that were included, but Every Voice Coalition’s Steering Committee, through numerous calls to representatives, is optimistic about the possibility of SB-19’s review during the second special session.
The second special session will take place in September 2020, and Every Voice needs your support.
To put it simply, the Office for Civil Rights, the office that controls Title IX regulations, is not providing adequate protection for our civil rights. SB-19 would not only be a solution to the blatant disregard that the Office of Civil Rights has for college students, but it is written by people who are affected by governmental apathy regarding sexual assault. These students know what it is like to feel afraid to walk alone at night, to be constantly aware of the people surrounding them, to not be able to express themselves through clothing out of fear and to refuse an invite to a party out of the fear of being assaulted. These students are aware of how unjustly our society treats sexual assault survivors, and they are willing to change it. In order to do that, they need student support.
Every Voice is always looking for new voices to add to the conversation about campus sexual violence. We are first and foremost student-based, and we are fighting to amplify not just our voices, but everyone’s. Without input from students, Every Voice would be disconnected from the issue that we are fighting for: it is up to you to help us continue to fight for you. On college campuses, this coalition not only provides a chance for students to get involved with legislative action, but it can also be an outlet for survivors and allies to channel their emotions into positive action.
Every Voice is present on many Connecticut college campuses, but we are still lacking important voices in some locations. To get involved in this cause, it is imperative that Every Voice CT is contacted through the general email. Now is not the time for silence. Now is the time for change.