In celebration of her appearance at the United State of Women Summit, we’re revisiting our own Jess Davidson‘s 4Qs. Jess was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change in April for her work on sexual assault prevention and policy.
Name: Jess Davidson
Campus: University of Denver
Major: Political Science and Public Policy
Graduation Year: 2016
Student Population: 11,797
What was it like to come to DC for the White House Champions of Change? What was it like getting the call?
I was in Cuba [doing research] for two weeks before I got the notification, and as soon as I got off the plane in the States, I got a call from the White House with the news and I began tearing up in customs. I was so ecstatic and humbled all at once – to put your whole heart into anything and have it be recognized is an amazing honor, especially an issue so personal to me. The day of the award ceremony, I had the chance to meet with my senator, Michael Bennet, who I got a call from in March saying that, because of my article in the Huffington Post, he’d decided to cosponsor the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Then we went to the White House and had a policy roundtable with just the ten “champions,” and White House Senior Staff and we were able to talk about policy in greater detail. That afternoon we had the televised, larger event with our guests and the prevention community. We met Vice President Biden backstage, and he gave his speech and called us all up one by one to highlight the work we’ve done. I got called up first, and the Vice President held my hand and looked me right in the eye and said: “you’re making a difference kiddo, for an awful lot of women across the country. Keep it up.” I’ll never forget that.
What work on campus were you recognized for?
As a student government, we mandated that all student organizations take bystander training in order to get funding. We’ve been trying different projects to establish sexual assault information liaisons for student organizations, get Title IX and Title II information on syllabi, help students get safe walks home during that first week of school. A few of us gave our phone numbers to thousands of students and went to parties to offer safe walks home. I’ll actually be presenting to the Board in June to approve a change in our consent policy, mandating a verbal yes for a true affirmative consent policy. I was able to get student conduct to require it and am now helping our Title IX Office and the Board of Trustees to approve the same change.
You’ve also been active in assault prevention off-campus. What have you done there?
I’m a survivor, and I wrote a story that was featured on the front page of the Huffington Post back in February. I started using my narrative to champion a call for uniform and clear affirmative consent education on college campuses, and to put a face and a name to sexual assault on my own campus. It was an incredibly personal thing for me to do and come forward with, and I think my voice shed light on a gray area that doesn’t get much attention — the media has this false narrative of a perfect survivor, which I’m not and most aren’t —and my article not only shed light on some of that grey area, but also gave actionable changes we can make to chip away at it.
What advice do you have for student leaders looking to replicate your success?
- Bring all voices to the table, especially survivor voices. Just because you’re not a survivor , though, doesn’t mean you can’t do incredible things in this arena – it truly takes a village.
- Let survivor voices lead the change. Let them be the rallying cry, and listen to the policies that they say would help them or would have changed their outcome. Champion their voices to top of the administration.
- People assume that activism has to be policy oriented, but the most powerful thing we can do is say I believe you, I support you, and show survivors that they’re not alone. Let the spirit of that belief lead what you’re doing on policy.