Last fall, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos rescinded Obama era Title IX guidance and issued an "interim" set of guidance until the department could come up with proposed federal rules.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.
Statement on Announcement About Federal Title IX Enforcement
Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her intention to rescind and use a public comment process to rewrite the Obama Administration’s policies and guidance on Title IX enforcement. A 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and subsequent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education reshaped how colleges and universities understand and implement their obligation to prevent gender-based discrimination under Title IX. Under current policy, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened more than 300 investigations into potential institutional failures to properly protect students’ rights under Title IX. While campus sexual assault is significantly under-reported, national and institutional studies consistently find that roughly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men experience sexual assault during their time as undergraduates. LGBT students and students of color are at greater risk.
Andy MacCracken, NCLC Executive Director and Cofounder, issued the following statement:
“I believe survivors. NCLC believes survivors.
Secretary DeVos’s remarks were based on the common myth that there is an epidemic of false accusations of sexual assault. There is not. Every study shows that false sexual assault reports are as rare as every other violent crime category. Suggesting otherwise is wildly irresponsible.
I agree with the Secretary that we must ensure effective and fair campus proceedings, and that’s exactly why we should build on the Obama Administration’s guidelines rather than start over. The guidelines pursue consistency, fidelity, and transparency at every institution and include thorough implementation suggestions using evidence-based best practices. If institutions follow them well, students know what to expect from the process. Higher education is slow to change. Without pressure from OCR, students--especially survivors--are left with the full burden of improving proceedings and policy campus by campus.
As we move into a new academic year, uncertainty about the future of federal policy is dangerous. Title IX is still the law, and institutions are obligated to implement best practices to prevent sexual assault and hold perpetrators accountable.
I urge all student leaders to participate in the public comments process Secretary DeVos announced and redouble efforts to improve campus policy and culture. NCLC will work closely with our student leaders to ensure their input and voices are heard by policymakers and federal leadership.”
Following incidents of sexual assault, Northwestern University's student government called for the immediate suspension of multiple campus fraternities on Wednesday, February 8 through a Facebook post. We spoke with Northwestern student body president Christina Cilento about her leadership on this issue.
NCLC: Was the decision to put out a statement calling for fraternity suspensions a difficult one? What support did you receive from your student government in the process?
Christina Cilento: The decision was actually one that our entire Executive Board, including multiple members of fraternities and sororities, agreed on. What was difficult was agreeing on when the fraternities should be suspended— either immediately or after the investigation found them responsible.
Some members were concerned with respecting the process of the investigation, while others (including myself) wanted to call for immediate and indefinite suspension. In the end, we decided the fraternities should be temporarily suspended for the duration of the Title IX investigation and then removed from campus if they were found responsible.
But reaching that decision took two separate hour-and-a-half meetings, one at 8 a.m. the day following the announcement of the assaults, and again at 10 p.m. that night. So it was a process, for sure. But we’re all proud of the result, and we’ve received really positive feedback from the members of our student government.
NCLC: Have you faced any backlash from the student community for your stance? How are you handling it?
CC: If there’s been backlash from the student community because of our statement, no one has approached me about it. I’ve only gotten positive responses and people thanking us for taking a strong stance. Our Facebook post with our statement reached about 14,000 people, had 240 likes and was shared 50 times, which is pretty good by our measures.
One person commented on the statement concerned about “due process”, but that’s the only negative reaction I’ve heard. I’m sure there are those who disagree with us, but they’ve been pretty silent, at least to me. By and large, I think the majority of the student body – including Greek leaders – wants to see these fraternities held accountable and removed if they’re proven responsible.
NCLC: What do you believe student governments and student body presidents across the country can do in order to better support survivors of sexual assault?
CC: First, make sure you’re standing up when an assault occurs on your campus that the entire community is aware of (in our case, an email was sent to the student body, which brought it to campus’ attention) and letting the campus know that you believe the survivors involved and condemn assault or harassment in any form. Work with student groups that fight sexual assault to see if there are any causes they’re fighting for that your student government can partner on.
For instance, you can fight to improve your campus’ definition of consent, make sure all students are trained on consensual sex and bystander intervention, and review the Title IX reporting and investigation process so survivors are supported (make sure they can take a friend or advocate to any hearings or meetings, make sure there are no students on any panels or committees that would hear other students’ cases, etc.).
When you’re at a loss for what to work on, refer to student experts in other groups to inform your actions. And make sure your efforts aren’t only focused on supporting those who have been assaulted, but also on preventing future assaults from occurring.
NCLC: Northwestern Interfraternity Council said in a statement on the group's Facebook page on Wednesday that leaders plan to start a task force to address the problem of sexual assault. Do you believe this task force will be effective? What hopes do you have for IFC in their approach to solving this campus crisis?
CC: Task forces are a classic default response in the student government world. While I think forming a Task Force to look into the issue of sexual assault in fraternities is a great step, I don’t think it’s a radical enough action. Task forces are slow-acting and often come to conclusions that could’ve been reached before their formation. You don’t need a task force to prove that sexual assault in fraternities at Northwestern is a problem, and you don’t need a task force to come up with some simple solutions, like mandatory and frequent trainings on consent, greater oversight at parties, etc.
What I really want to see IFC do is advocate for the removal of the fraternities involved in this situation (SAE and another unnamed fraternity), and continue to hold their brothers accountable for their actions by suspending chapters that cannot provide a safe environment for the entire campus. I hope the Task Force proves fruitful, but I think that IFC can be taking bolder action.
NCLC: What advice would you give to other student body presidents navigating similar crises on their campus? What duty do you believe student body presidents have to their community in such challenging or controversial times?
CC: Do what you think is right, regardless of how it will be perceived by your campus. An SBP’s responsibility is to look out for the safety and wellbeing of other students, and if you’re appalled and enraged by a situation on your campus, let the student body (and the administration) know that. You can shape discourse and campus opinion with your words and actions, so use your power and access to do so.
For me, it was most important to stand with survivors of sexual assault and let them know that we believed them and would fight for them, so that’s what we communicated in our statement when we called for the removal of fraternities. Even if not all students agree with our statement, and even though the investigation into these reports is still ongoing, we did what we thought was right, and we feel really good about that at the end of their day.
Excelling at the role of Student Body President takes a lot of sincerity and humble commitment. Nagela Nukuna of Georgia Institute of Technology bursts with that drive.
“I want students to see student government as an organization that is on their side. We’re known typically as the organization that gives you money. I want people to look at us a resource, a friend, and an advocate for them,” she said.
Naturally, the position comes with its challenges. The fourth-year Industrial Engineering major must balance the various demands of the job.
“I spend 50% of my time managing people and the organization as a whole, which is not something I immediately expected when I went into this role. Forty-percent of my role is then spent representing Tech at external events like conferences or speaking engagements or campus partner meetings. I spend the other 10% is the other new initiatives and pet projects that I want to work on,” Nukuna said. “It’s been transitioning into that headspace that’s been a challenge.”
Nukuna strives to create a campus environment that benefits all Georgia Tech students. Nukuna has prioritized sexual assault prevention during her term by leaning on her sexual violence advisory board and teaming up with fellow Georgia state schools to publish a white paper on the topic.
“As students under the University System of Georgia, the new sexual assault policy does not leave a lot of room for student feedback,” Nukuna said. “The white paper will address that process and what they could have done better to engage students, the repercussions of the policy’s broad language, consent education, and the detrimental effects the current policy has had on students who try to report.”
As far as what it takes to achieve success in these various initiatives (which includes installing a hammock garden to promote student mental health), Nukuna emphasizes the importance of teamwork and respect for her cabinet members.
“I wouldn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do,” she said.
For her fellow student government presidents struggling to keep up with the challenges of their presidency, Nukuna has some thoughtful advice.
“Have a close support network, whether that be friends or family,” she said. “Find a friend you can vent to who won’t look at you in a bad light for complaining. Because although you get to do cool things in this job, it is time consuming.”
We can’t wait to see all of the amazing things Nagela will continue to do this year!
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.
Leo finally got his Oscar, but the big story coming out of last week’s Academy Awards show was Vice President Biden and Lady Gaga teaming up to elevate the issue of sexual assault. Gaga, herself a survivor, performed “Til It Happens To You,” which she wrote for The Hunting Ground, a powerful documentary about campus sexual assault. Certainly the most moving part of the show was when fifty survivors came—literally—out of the shadows to join Lady Gaga at the piano for the song’s finale. We got to catch up with Maya Weinstein, who was on stage for the powerful moment, about the performance, her advocacy, and what student governments can do post-Oscars.
Name: Maya Weinstein
Campus: George Washington University (alumna)
Leadership role: Sexual assault policy advocate
Major(s): Criminal Justice & Human Services
NCLC: First, tell us about the lead up to the Oscars. What was it like getting the call, and what was the rehearsal process like?
Maya: I got an email last Sunday and I read it five times. Everytime I read it, I read something different. They emailed some of us who were involved in The Hunting Ground, and I went from “oh Gaga’s nominated for this award” to “oh I’m gonna be on stage while she’s singing the song.” And then I called my dad, and I cried
I couldn’t really tell any friends because it was strictly confidential, but luckily I was supposed to be out in California that week already. We had rehearsals Friday, Saturday, and all day Sunday. It was some people from Hunting Ground, then some survivors they networked and brought in from all over the country.
NCLC: You were heavily involved with sexual assault policy advocacy at George Washington University (GW). How has your work on campus and involvement in The Hunting Ground shaped your advocacy?
Maya: For me, a lot of what I focus on is the university’s mishandling of a case and the response. After my assault, I brought a proposal to the administration with ways to improve policy and the hearing process. I worked on the provost’s Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and have tried to work with different student association candidates to make sure their platforms are really solid so that this work can continue.
I was involved in GW Students Against Sexual Assault, and we did Take Back the Night, peer education programs and all that, but I always focused on the response—what happens after someone reports. Prevent [assaults] however you can, but I personally feel it’s more tangible work when someone is disclosing to me, and I’m helping them directly. Sometimes when I’m speaking to a room and saying “Don’t rape” I feel it’s falling on deaf ears, because so many of these students don’t even know what rape is, which is a problem.
I’ve shared my story on a lot of different platforms, and people kind of know that they can talk to me or refer people to me. Because I’ve become more vocal, many people have disclosed to me about their own experiences, and those are the people I know I’ve reached, those are lives that have been impacted by advocacy.
NCLC: The Oscars award show is probably second only to the Superbowl and NFL playoffs in terms of audience and reach, so what does that mean to you and for the cause, seeing the conversation come to the forefront on that type of platform?
Maya: When we were backstage, when we were about to go on, Gaga gave this spiritual monologue, and that’s when it clicked—just how many people would be watching it and how many people would be affected by it. And there are people past college, or not in college, who might not understand the culture of college campuses and how a sexual assault on campus is unique to that culture. Maybe those people are having a revelation, realizing it happened to them or a loved one. Everyone was so connected in that moment, and I think people are going to come forward and in some way have this catharsis. Vice President Biden spoke about the importance of men getting involved with this issue and standing up to (and for) each other, and that’s a huge takeaway for such a big audience.
How do you think student government can better partner with advocates like you to really champion this issue?
- Listen. Student body presidents want to get fifty million things done, and finding the right advocate to help on this issue can help it get farther. Go to survivors and advocates on campus, sit down and listen to what they want to see change, and how it could be changed. Then empower them as a partner.
- Build a coalition. Student organizations must work together. There should be more unity between organizations, and everyone brings unique expertise that the whole group needs. It’s all about finding the right surrogates.
- Don’t back down. Institutions are under a lot of pressure and the issue has become really politicized. Student government is a unique platform with actual power and access that can help give voice to so many survivors, and make things better for them and future students. It’s worth it because we’re talking about our friends and sisters and brothers. If you can harness that and collaborate, then there can be long-term positive change.
We have been able to see student leaders use the It’s On Us campaign as an aid in the organizing they are already doing as well as a springboard to start a number of campus conversations. While each campus is at a different place, student leaders are using It’s On Us to take ownership over driving the discussion on campus.
April 13th starts the It’s On Us Spring National Week of Action, which is a platform to build all these inspiring efforts into one powerful movement. Hundreds of students nationwide will hold community events to continue the conversation locally and call on their peers to step up. Some students are hosting roundtables with key campus leaders; others are holding major community wide town halls and rallies. What matters most is that you figure out what’s most manageable for your goals.
As you get ready to plan your campus events for the National Week of Action you can download the new Its On Us Spring Toolkit. The toolkit includes:
- Event planning guides
- Tips for planning a successful campus event
- Social media guidelines
- Bystander Intervention training best practices
- Helpful insights from RAINN on supporting survivors
Student leaders are at the forefront of this call to action and have been hosting campaign pledge drives, holding campus-wide roundtables, and working with administrators to ensure that entire campus communities are changing the culture around sexual assault.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 19, 2014
Contact: Regina Martel, firstname.lastname@example.org, 719-349-9859
Student leaders nationwide taking action to change campus culture and end sexual violence as White House launches new campaign
[WASHINGTON]–National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC) announced Friday a list of more than 200 student body presidents who have committed to confront sexual assaults in their communities. The announcement came in conjunction with the It’s On Us campaign, launched Friday morning by President Obama at the White House.
The student leaders’ commitment to find solutions demonstrates a turning point in the effort to change culture and take the problem out of the shadows. More than 1,000 student leaders from nearly 500 college campuses nationwide participated in conference calls this summer with NCLC and the White House to discuss campus sexual assault and learn about the It’s On Us initiative.
“Student body presidents and their teams from around the country are coming together to say it’s on all of us to stop sexual assault,” said Andy MacCracken, NCLC executive director. “We’re talking about a seismic shift in how communities deal with sexual violence as the country looks to students for leadership on such an important issue,” he added.
Recent research shows that one in five women is assaulted during college, most victims know their attackers, and 95 percent of assaults go unreported. Friday’s event will highlight the startling statistics on campus sexual assault. MacCracken, who is scheduled to speak on an expert panel during the event, will highlight examples of how student leaders are stepping up on the issue.
The campaign will focus primarily on community education by elevating existing student initiatives and providing a blueprint for new campus efforts. NCLC’s outreach encourages broad coalition building on a campus-by-campus level. Part of the student body presidents’ commitment is to engage student leaders from Greek life, athletics, victims advocacy groups, cultural organizations, and political groups.
“On college campuses we have a culture of blaming victims and often don’t look at ways that we can personally make a change,” said Celia Wright, student body president at The Ohio State University.
“Students are often confused about their rights as bystanders and where they can intervene to stop sexual assaults. This campaign will arm students with a better understanding of how to step in before something happens,” she added.
NCLC will continue to engage more student leaders and develop substantive resources to help them succeed as they launch their awareness campaigns and tackle campus level sexual misconduct policy.
The National Campus Leadership Council is a national organization that empowers student leaders to influence the public discourse Launched in January 2012, NCLC works with a broad network of student body presidents and their teams on leadership development and policy advocacy at the campus, state, and national levels. The organization is non-partisan, elevating student leaders as meaningful stakeholders on exigent issues facing young people.