Amid Department of Education investigations of various Michigan institutions’ sexual misconduct policies, including that of the University, state first lady Sue Snyder collaborated with Michigan politicians and educators in an effort to address issues of sexual assault on campuses.

Snyder hosted the “Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault” summit, an event designed to foster dialogue between leadership in government and education and the public. Held in Lansing, the conference featured remarks from campus sexual assault survivors, state representatives, and congressmen and educators from across the state.

During her remarks, Snyder lauded Michigan colleges and universities for taking steps to prevent sexual assault, but said there is still more work to be done.

“I have no doubt that together we will set a positive example and make Michigan a leader in the fight against sexual assault on our college and university campuses,” Snyder said. “While we may not like to believe it, sexual assault can happen anywhere and to anyone. Our colleges and universities are already taking positive steps to prevent these crimes. But there’s always more that can be done. It is my hope that we can build on these efforts.”

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) echoed her remarks, and said the focus of the summit should be brainstorming ways to offer support to survivors of sexual assault.

“This is not about politics, this is not about party, this is about helping people,” Snyder said. “What can we do to stop it, prevent it, make sure it never happens again? And in the meantime, what can we do to provide better support for the people who have suffered through these terrible acts?”

In accordance with the Snyder administration, Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, announced an allocation of $500,000 in the 2016 state budget for implementing best practices of sexual assault prevention on college campuses.

A portion of the event was also dedicated to educating attendees about the scientific and psychological elements of sexual assault. Wayne State Prof. Antonia Abbey shared her research on the role of alcohol in cases of sexual assault; Rebecca Campbell, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, discussed the neurological effects victims of sexual assault may experience.

The summit also engaged with the public remotely. Remarks, discussions and breakout sessions were all streamed live online throughout the duration of the conference. Additionally, Twitter users contributed to discussions by tweeting using the hashtag #MISaferCampus.

“Glad to see the level of commitment at the #MISaferCampus summit,” one user tweeted. “Every deserves to #LiveWithoutFear.”

CSG President Steven Halperin, an LSA junior, also took to Twitter during the conference.

“Great day in Lansing,” he tweeted. “It’s a great day to be around so many passionate people.”

In a statement to the press, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.), who also participated in the conference, said sexual assault should not be an accepted trend, and that Michigan should be a leading state in ending campus sexual assault.

“Today, one in five women are assaulted during their college years, and Michigan can, and should, lead the country in ending assault on college campuses,” she said. “Today’s summit was a critical first step. By bringing together stakeholders from both sides of the aisle to listen and learn and discuss best practices, we can find ways to educate students, empower survivors and prevent sexual assault on our campuses and around the country.”

State Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker (R–Lawton) and Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor), and state Reps. Laura Cox (R–Livonia) and Marilyn Lane (D–Fraser) held a panel discussion to brainstorm ways the state of Michigan could be a leader in combating campus sexual assaults. Debi Cain, executive director of the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, also participated in the discussion.

During the panel, Warren, who is a representative of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, said it is vital that the state encourages victims to report crimes of sexual assault by implementing stronger mandates on testing rape kits.

“We know that this is one of the most underreported crimes that we have, and one of the reasons is that people are worried that they won’t be believed or if they will get the justice that they seek,” Warren said. “Those untested rape kits I think hang over our head as something we have to resolve to show people that we will take their cases seriously that they will get the justice that they need.”

Warren said legislature has taken steps to appropriate funds in two budgets that will go toward requiring stricter timelines for rape kit testing.

“Any new victims that are in a position of having to decided whether they will come forward or not should know that they will get treated with dignity they deserve,” she said.

In her remarks at the end of the conference, Sue Snyder said she was encouraged by the productive conversations the conference prompted.

“This inaugural summit has been one of the most encouraging things that I have been a part of,” she said. “The outpouring of support and dedication signifies a positive for this effort.”

Snyder also said continued dialogues about sexual assault awareness and prevention are vital.

“It’s imperative we do not stop this conversation,” she said. “We know that we’re not going to bring an end to assault in a one day summit. We all must continue talking and we need to take action.”

Dingell echoed Snyder’s remarks by encouraging attendees to continue reflecting on sexual assault prevention and saying she, too, would put forth a continued effort for the cause.

“As we leave today’s conference, I hope we will take those words to heart and focus on ways we can all help survivors who feel they have nowhere to turn,” she said. “I will work with first lady Snyder, all members of our communities, our universities and stakeholders on bipartisan policy solutions at the federal level that will provide victims the support they need and help change the picture of sexual assault on college campuses.”

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