Governor, first lady discuss sexual assault at campus summit
Michigan first lady Sue Snyder hosted the second annual “Inform. Empower. Prevent. Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault” summit Friday at the University of Michigan where representatives from Greek life, athletics and state government discussed rising sexual assault numbers and strategies for eliminating sexual assault on college campuses.
The summit featured a variety of speakers and panels, including an athletic panel as well as panels on bystander intervention and rape culture.
Gov. Rick Snyder, first lady Sue Snyder and their daughter, LSA junior Kelsey Snyder, kicked off the event with remarks on the importance of creating a dialogue on sexual assault and working to end sexual assault on college campuses.
In his remarks, Gov. Snyder said sexual assault has historically been one of the most underrepresented issues in society, and legislatures and colleges need to be doing more to combat it. He said summits like this one are a powerful step forward, but also encouraged people to go out and take action to individually facilitate change.
“This is a great opportunity, but let’s not have this opportunity just be a nice meeting — that’s not the point of today,” Snyder said. “The charge I would give you — the challenge I would say to you — is come out of here with a passion to inform others, to be that role model to empower others.”
At last year’s summit, Gov. Snyder first announced the introduction of a $500,000 grant, which could be used by universities to apply for funding for sexual assault prevention initiatives. The University received $20,003, which it used for the Raise the Bar program — an initiative in which local bar employees participated in bystander intervention training. On Sunday, Snyder said he is proud the state is allocating another $500,000 for the same purpose. The University plans to apply for the grant again, but has not yet decided on a project for the potential funding.
Snyder, a University alum, said the college campus experience is an exceptional part of a young person’s life and development, and that people on campuses across the state need to be interacting with and educating students about sexual assault prevention.
“That’s one of the greatest experiences many of us have had in our lives, the opportunity to go on campus, to have that first experience beyond home,” Snyder said. “We need to engage everyone in this dialogue so these young people can have that wonderful experience we all dream about and not have these terrible tragedies interfere with their lives, potentially ruin their lives.”
Sue Snyder said the issue is important to her, especially because her daughter Kelsey is a student at the University and she considers Ann Arbor her hometown.
“That makes the work we are doing here today especially meaningful,” she said. “That’s what makes this initiative so personal: Our college and university campuses are our students’ homes away from home.”
Changing the culture surrounding sexual assault and encouraging students to seek help is a primary concern for her, Sue Snyder said. She said it is unacceptable for colleges to have an atmosphere that doesn’t give the proper respect to survivors and makes students afraid to speak up about sexual assault.
“Sexual assault has been a taboo topic around the country for far too long, and I am so proud Michigan is a leader in addressing this issue,” Snyder said.
Currently, the University of Michigan, Grand Valley State University and Alma College are under investigation for Title IX violations. Michigan State University was also under investigation for two cases, but both were resolved in 2015.
In a press conference after the event, Gov. Snyder said it is expected that sexual assault statistics will rise as more people feel comfortable reporting incidents, but the end goal is to see a decrease as assault prevention techniques are more effective.
“The goal is to reduce it over time,” he said. “Obviously you can see the numbers increase as you get awareness, but then hopefully prevention starts kicking in and you see that number go down.”
Speaking to the University specifically, Kelsey Snyder said unity and transparency between different organizations such as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, Central Student Government and Greek life are key.
“(From) firsthand experience, transparency is one of the biggest things a college campus can have with the community,” she said. “Just knowing the exact steps to take, having it all laid out, so (students) don’t feel blindsided by anything.”
New to this year’s summit was a forum for input from high school students, student athletes and Greek life representatives. A panel on how universities can better partner with student athletes featured Warde Manuel, the University’s athletic director, and Carol Hutchins, the head coach of the University’s softball team.
High school students from various local high schools, including Pioneer and Huron High Schools, also attended the conference. Pioneer students Marisa Chrissos and Raeden Tapia-Stevens said they were invited due to their involvement with an inter-school organization called I Will Take the Next Step, which works to prepare high school students for college by addressing social issues and campus safety.
Chrissos said she believes the incorporation of high school students into the summit is important, as it allows them to be educated on the topic prior to their entrance into a university.
“It’s really shown me how important this is to really talk about it before college,” she said. “It is happening in college a lot, so we need to address it before then so that people are prepared and know what to do if this happens.”
Members of Greek life were also invited to the summit for the first time this year. Ross sophomore Arrie Timmer and Kinesiology junior Cass Bouse-Eaton, attended the summit as directors for Panhellenic Peer Educators. Their goal is to educate the Panhel community on how to address sexual assault and how to be positive bystanders.
Timmer said students have the ability to impact their communities and the campus culture if they partner with other groups on the issue.
“We have a powerful opportunity in our communities to really focus on creating positive communities and creating change from the inside,” she said. “We don’t have to be the problem. We can work together to find solutions.”
Bouse-Eaton said despite some improvement she has seen in her three years on campus, she still believes students have more to do to fix the culture surrounding sexual assault.
“The real change is going to come from the students and students saying enough is enough,” she said. “A lot of the culture has changed in Greek life, but it still has a long way to go.”
University alum Vicki Banyard, a professor at University of New Hampshire in the Department of Psychology, said in remarks following her session that making sure students are involved in the conversations regarding sexual assault is essential to finding solutions.
“I think it’s really important to involve all of the different student voices,” she said. “It’s great to have those different voices represented and to make connections among those voices.”
Casey Corcoran, program director of the children and youth program at Futures Without Violence — a group fighting violence against women and children — repeated this sentiment.
“Young people are often only seen as the perpetrators of violence, the victims of violence, the witnesses to violence,” he said. “But young people are also the solution to the violence as well. Young people are one of the most underutilized resources when it comes to combatting sexual assault.”