Jamie Zottola went to SUNY New Paltz for undergrad and grad school. She graduated with her Masters in Humanistic Multicultural Education concentrating in Women’s Studies and Services in August 2008. She is currently looking for employment in the higher education field or with organizations that deal with violence.
How did you get involved in challenging how your school handles sexual assault?
For all of college I was involved in sexual assault hotline, which I coordinated for 2 years, and people came to me all the time asking about resources. Another woman, Jill Greenberg, took a Womenâ€™s Studies class, Womenâ€™s Images and Realities, for which she had to do a â€œtake actionâ€ project. So her project was to get students and administrators together in April 2007 to talk about [SUNY] New Paltzâ€™s sexual assault policy. I met her through this process, and we got the VP of Student Affairs, Ray Schwartz, and the professor for the course, Amy Kessfelmean, to sit down with several students.
How did you get other students involved?
Facebook is a magical tool for college students. Jill started a Facebook event and invited everyone we thought would be interested. We had 40 or 45 students at first meeting, and Facebook and word of mouth were our two tools.
What were the biggest concerns about your school and sexual assault among students on your campus?
For the meeting we talked about how the policy was very heteronormative, and didnâ€™t talk about same-sex sexual assault. We wanted to make it inclusive of all students, and we wanted to make it more accessible. It was called the sexual misconduct policy, and had three levels of â€œmisconduct.â€ We felt that it minimized the studentâ€™s experiences.
At the first meeting we just went over the policy. Ray is really great, really supportive of students, really great about being concerned about sexual assault.
We focused on just these two itemsâ€”and they could do moreâ€”but it was a good place to start for the first redo in several years.
What did you demand of your administration?
I donâ€™t think we demanded, we just voiced our concerns. We wanted to work as a collaborative. We said that we wanted to make the policy more inclusive of GLBT students, and for them to be more concerned about what the policy was called. Students didnâ€™t know what [sexual misconduct] meant; we wanted to change it to rape. We wanted to show how serious it is.
Now the policy has rape and two kinds of sexual assault.
How did they respond?
I think they were overall receptive. It took around a year for the new policy to get in place. Ray was very receptive; he was involved with the prior changes so he was very familiar with the policy. This winter we had to present to the Board of Trustees, although only one person showed up. I donâ€™t know what the president, or other members of the administration thought, but we were really proud of the change we made and Ray was too.
Describe your successes.
Policy Regarding Rape and Sexual Assault (Go to page 61)
What resources (on- and off-campus) were most useful to you in your campaign?
Having the old policy was very helpful, so we could see the gaps. Having Rayâ€™s support was good because he was involved in the prior changes; he knew what he was doing. Amy and Ray had worked with other schools, and that helped. We also used each other as a resource to bounce things offâ€”this is too complicated, etc.
What advice would you give to other students who want to change their campuses?
Itâ€™s really important to not go into a meeting on the defensive. If you have your guard up you might be seen as an enemy. This is not something you can do alone, the administration doesnâ€™t care if itâ€™s just one person. Itâ€™s very important to have a smorgasbord of people together trying to change a policy.
What, if anything, would you have done differently?
It was a learning experience, the first time changing the policy. I would have tried to get more administrators and more faculty involved, it was mostly students, it so wasnâ€™t necessarily representative of everyone on campus.