University of Michigan Central Student Government representatives, along with representatives from other universities such as Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and Grand Valley State University, traveled to Lansing on Wednesday to meet with legislators to talk about the issue of sexual assault on campuses, an event called Advocacy Day.
LSA sophomore Grant Rivas, chief programming officer for CSG, was one of the primary coordinators of the event. He spoke about how it was created to give student representatives a chance to speak to their legislators about current policies, and talk about what steps have been taken and possible plans for the future.
“We weren’t going to lobby for any specific bill or talk about individual pieces of policy or legislation, more so just to communicate how prevalent this problem is on our campus,” Rivas said. “Because of the prevalence of the issue, we wanted to take it upon ourselves as student leaders and student representatives to go and meet with our state government, and try to make sure that we’re on their radar and … look for better ways to address the problem, as the status right now doesn’t work for anybody.”
Representatives from organizations such as Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and the student organization HeForShe, a student organization that aims to provide a platform for gender equality, were also present with the team and worked together to compile a fact sheet to present at the meeting.
The student government members met with state representations from Ann Arbor including Reps. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor), Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) and Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor). Rivas said they presented government officials with an overview of how prevalent sexual assault is on campus and the current resources each University has.
“Through these meetings, which I thought were really valuable, because representatives were not necessarily intimately familiar with Relationship Remix," he said, “we wanted to let them know what’s currently being done about this issue, and reiterating several times that there’s still a lot of ground to make up considering a lot of the rates that have been reported.”
A goal of this trip was to prove student commitment to improving sexual assault reactions on campus through their meeting.
“Primarily we were there to present the topic in general and show that we are students, that we care about this, it’s something that we want to see some kind of action on as soon as possible,” Rivas said. “More importantly I think was being a springboard for them, where they can ask us questions and we could talk to them.”
On Feb. 9, legislators, including Warren, introduced a series of bills that would support victims of sexual assault — one aspect of the bills was increased compensation for health care providers that aid victims in gathering evidence of the incident.
“Sexual assault is not confined to certain neighborhoods or limited by demographics,” Warren said in a release. “It affects everyone. Creating consistency in how health providers are compensated will ensures that victims from all walks of life will have a place to go to seek treatment and begin moving forward as survivors.”
Rivas said the representatives were receptive to the students' visit. He also hoped the trip helped move future legislation in the right direction.
“With a problem like sexual assault, it’s really hard to have snap-your-finger solutions, where we can kind of change this thing overnight,” he said. “This problem is large enough and complex enough that it takes a lot of large-scale, long-term solutions. The biggest impact this has on the student body is that in the next couple weeks, months, years, representatives from Ann Arbor are taking steps to help this University kind of mitigate this issue.”
On college campuses, one in every five women and one in every 16 men are sexually assaulted, with over 90 percent of survivors not reporting their incidents. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 20 to 25 percent of women in higher education have experienced rape or a rape attempt.
In 2015, the University released data stating 11 percent of all students on campus have been victims of a non-consensual encounter. The survey also added 9.7 percent of all female students experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration.
“As a university president, a physician-scientist, an educator and a father, the issue of sexual misconduct keeps me awake at night,” said University President Mark Schlissel in a 2015 release. “I feel personally responsible for the safety and well-being of all students at the University of Michigan.”
On campus, CSG has taken steps this past semester to discuss the issue of sexual assault. In mid-December, the student assembly introduced a new policy requiring Bystander Intervention and Community Engagement training. Funded by CSG’s Student Organization Funding Commission, the assembly will allocate $400,000 a year to organizations on campus. Two leaders of organizations that apply for the funding must attend the workshop in order to have the opportunity to access the funds.
The Bystander Intervention training hopes to teach students leaders how to identify examples of harmful behavior and learn how to navigate high-risk circumstances, such as drug- and alcohol-related incidents. CSG said in its release that the goal was to have trained students pass their knowledge on to their student organizations. The workshops will be conducted by SAPAC volunteers.
“Central Student Government is deeply committed to changing the culture around sexual misconduct and alcohol and other drug misuse on campus,” the email release announcing the policy said. “This is why we want to empower Michigan students to receive Bystander Intervention training around these important and challenging issues.”
With the visit to Lansing, Rivas said he wanted to give state officials a more personal look into life on campus.
“I think that when it comes to sexual assault and sexual violence, it’s definitely a difficult conversation to have", he said. "And a lot of people who might not be intimately involved in the University or have a close relationship with colleges don’t really understand that, you know, these percentages can range to 20 to 30 percent of students at a lot of major public schools,”