Editor’s Note: This piece discusses sexual harassment and assault.
Camp Yale, a fond tradition for many, is also the beginning of a period called the “red zone.” The “red zone” is used to describe the first six weeks of college when students are most likely to experience attempted or completed sexual violence.
Sexual violence is extremely prevalent on college campuses, yet only about 10 percent of survivors report it. Students, specifically women, people of color and LGBTQ individuals, risk their mental well-being by living in this relatively unsupervised environment.
Six years ago, the Every Voice Coalition began protesting this injustice in Massachusetts — last year students in Connecticut joined the fight. Every Voice CT is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, grassroots organization of students working to pass student-written legislation to protect our peers from sexual violence in Connecticut.
Every Voice CT’s bill, previously filed as Senate Bill 19, now filed as House Bill 6374, has two critical components. The first is an amnesty policy requirement. This policy would ensure students who were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when impacted by violence are not penalized by university administrations. Students will be able to report misconduct without the fear of repercussions. Given the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in instances of campus sexual violence, it’s likely this measure will allow many more students to come forward.
Moreover, an amnesty policy fights victim-blaming. By not penalizing students who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of violence, the Connecticut General Assembly sends the message that no student is at fault or punishable for the violence that occurred against them — no matter the circumstances.
The second component is a campus climate survey requirement. This requires universities to administer campus climate surveys every two years to collect anonymous data about sexual violence on campus. A campus climate survey requirement would equip Connecticut universities with student insights and stories needed to inform university policy, response, protections and resources for those impacted by violence in their community.
The bill was voted unanimously by the Joint Committee on Higher Education in February 2020, and was on track for passage before COVID-19 derailed the regular session. The bill had massive support from legislators of each party — yet it did not pass.
It is extremely disappointing to see that although the Yale Administration “supports the goal, expressed in SB 19, of promoting safe and respectful campus communities,” they don’t fully support either of the provisions that we have laid out, especially with regard to our two-year climate survey provision.
In their testimony at the bill’s public hearing last February, Yale’s administration recommended that campus climate surveys should be conducted “no more frequently than every four years.” Their excuse for this policy stance was that doing a comprehensive and high-quality survey takes at least four years and that they wanted to follow the survey schedule set forth by the Association of American Universities, which implements quadrennial campus climate surveys. They also argued that “Conducting surveys every four years permits every undergraduate student to complete a survey at least once.”
These statements illustrate how dangerously unaware the Yale administration is of the privilege that they hold as an elite institution. This bill is supposed to be for every student in the state. The two-year frequency in the campus climate survey accommodates the shifting nature of student bodies at Connecticut’s community colleges and state schools. At community colleges, which primarily grant associate’s degrees on a two-year schedule, many students will never be able to take a quadrennial campus climate survey. There are also the issues of low retention rates and incoming/outgoing transfer students.
The four-year frequency that Yale suggests blatantly disregards these demographics of students. Our push for a bi-yearly campus climate survey would allow more students to communicate their experiences at the institution before moving, taking time off, withdrawing or graduating. This provision is a necessity to accommodate all students around the state, not just the ones who have the privilege to go to institutions such as Yale.
Let’s do our best to make sure young students never blame themselves for the sexual violence that they have experienced. We deserve to feel safe and comfortable at the campuses we are on. It is time for Yale to do better and support EVC in what we are advocating for.
SARA THAKUR is a junior in Ezra Stiles college. Contact Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org. The public hearing for Every Voice CT’s bill is on Tuesday, March 2nd at 10 AM. Please reach out to Sara if you want to testify or learn more.