Last fall, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos rescinded Obama era Title IX guidance and issued an "interim" set of guidance until the department could come up with proposed federal rules. That process is expected to kick off in March and will provide students the opportunity to weigh in on the final version of the rules. We're pretty concerned about what may come from that process, but there are rays of hope all around the country.
Yesterday, the Minnesota State University Board of Trustees became the latest system to adopt a uniform affirmative consent policy. The unanimous vote on February 21st sets a clear standard for Minnesota State's 37 institutions and came after a big push from students across the system to improve policy and education programs. Students United, which represents the student governments of the system's seven universities, led the charge. We caught up with the Chair of Students United, Faiçal Rayani, to learn more about their successful advocacy and tips for other systems.
NCLC: What's your background? How did you end up becoming Students United Chair?
Faiçal Rayani: I am an international student at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I am a senior, my major is Information Technology. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, my father is from Tunisia and my mother is from Syria. I got into student leadership as a residence association representative and found my passion for public service. After many failures, I was elected as a student senator for 3 years in a row, the vice president of the international student association, the vice president of the residence hall association, student body president and finally now as State Chair of students United representing all university students in the Minnesota state system. I also started my own data science student organization at MSU, Mankato that has a strong 100+ members.
NCLC: Why is this issue a priority for you? How did you get involved?
FR: As an international student born and raised in Saudi Arabia I was unaware of the lack of consent and bystander intervention education in the United States. I attended a consent seminar my freshman year and was alarmed by the number of students that did not understand the meaning of consent. When I was elected as State Chair, I decided to have a focused approach. I gathered the board to identify and tackle a maximum of three major issues or objectives and affirmative consent made the list as a high priority for Students United this year.
NCLC: What were/are your goals and what was/is your game plan for getting there?
FR: We started by working on the universities individually and that gathered support from university presidents, student government and Title IX coordinators on our individual seven state universities. We were simultaneously lobbying with the system office to change and improve the policy while continuing the conversation with all other stakeholders such as the IFO and the board of trustees. Our plan was to have a uniform and collaborative effort at all levels of the Minnesota State System.
NCLC: What have been the biggest challenges during this effort?
FR: A challenge at first was passing a uniform policy through all seven state university student governments. It was difficult to identify language that all students agreed on. It was also difficult to coordinate the motion passing since it hinged entirely on student support and passion for the issue on that particular campus. It was also challenging to rally all the stakeholders behind the idea of affirmative consent and educating them on the need for the policy in the system.
NCLC: What has the response been from students on your campus and across the system?
FR: We have received overwhelming support from our students. Our delegation of 41 voting members that attend our conference voted unanimously to expedite the adoption of affirmative consent. Our board unanimously passed it, followed by all seven state university student governments unanimously passing it. Today, Feb. 21, 2018, the board of trustees of Minnesota State also unanimously passed the policy. This change has long been overdue to combat the epidemic of sexual assault.
NCLC: What are your tips for other student leaders on how they can be successful on this issue?
- Collaborate uniformly - Our greatest strength was that we involved ALL stakeholders in the discussions. This allowed us to take control of the dialogue and centralize the discussion while also buying in support.
- Build relationships - We already had established great relationships with the faculty association, the student governments, university presidents, Title IX officers and chief diversity officers. My advice is to never burn a bridge and keep a respectful relationship with all stakeholders if at all possible.
- Rally student support - Campaigning with students early on regarding the policy allowed us to obtain student support early in the process. This led to students advocating on this issue on their individual campuses.
- Be knowledgeable - As student leaders, we spent the time to learn this issue and know how to answer the tough questions.