We love getting reports from students of their organizing successes. We recently got this from Margaret, a recent graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland who met some of our board members at V to the Tenth in New Orleans. She has some great tips for other student activists so read on!
Nearing Winter Break at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2005, our school newspaper The Point News printed an interview with the Dean of Students about sexual assault on campus and other student concerns. The former Dean stated that women are not truthful about rape on campus. Many of the social activists on campus, including myself, gathered together and began a publicity campaign against the Dean. Over winter break, these students convened and came up with a plan of all the aspects of sexual assault we wanted to confront on campus when we returned for the Spring 2006 semester.
In the early months of that semester, we drafted a proposal for the already existing Sexual Assault Task Force, composed of administration, faculty, and students and who reported to the Dean policy changes. Our proposal consisted of three parts: a new definition of Sexual Assault I and II including a definition of active consent, judicial changes, and a peer advocate first responder program to assist student survivors in navigating their options on campus and off.
We spent our entire semester campaigning for these changes. Our major victory came with the definition of consent added to our distinctive definitions of Sexual Assault I and II. “Consent: Consent is defined as the act of willingly and verbally agreeing to engage in sexual conduct. Consensual sex is a mutual decision reached by both parties without any hint of force or coercion.” The full policy can be seen in our student handbook To the Point at http://www.smcm.edu/students/pdfs/tothepoint.pdf
Other victories were transitioning the Sexual Assault Task Force into a permanent administrative position of the Sexual Assault Standing Committee, creating a part-time health and counseling services position of Sexual Assault Response and Program Coordinator to ensure communication among the various campus offices that handle a sexual assault report, and the installation of the Peer Advocate First Responder Program by Fall 2007.
My personal advice from this experience for other campuses wishing to pursue such changes on their own campuses is to maximize the use of various resources you have as students. For one, your voice is stronger than you think. Two, your relationships with faculty and staff gets your voice heard and helps you navigate the bureaucracy inherent on all campuses. Three, prioritize your issues because you cannot get everything you want all at once. Four, be persistent and find people who will carry on after you graduate in eventually getting all you want for your campus community. For instance, the social activists on my campus are still dealing with a very disconnected Public Safety Office who will not disclose information about how they conduct their investigations. Also our Health and Counseling Services have reportedly not had a budget increase (not even to adjust for inflation) since 1980. Finally and most importantly, do your research about every aspect of sexual assault. This includes examining the specific issues your campus presents regarding sexual assault, what options you have for solving these problems that fit your campus community and bureaucratic environment, your state’s laws regarding sexual assault, and general information about sexual assault, i.e. federal laws and acts, statistics from government organizations and non-profits, and local shelters and organizations. Remember, not every policy or solution works for every campus, so be ready to adjust to your own specific needs.