The Survivor Empowerment Alliance met Sunday for the first time to discuss the University’s new mandatory reporting policies, which would require University employees to in turn report sexual assaults that are reported to them.
ASUO Chief of Staff and SEA co-creator Kerry Snodgrass said these policies would wipe out the anonymous reporting system without getting the students’ voice. Because of this, Snodgrass and other members decided to create the SEA in order to help support students who may feel the same way.
“We want to change the conversation with administrators,” Snodgrass said. “We want to make this a more empowering environment for survivors.”
Many members of the group were unsatisfied with the student involvement in regards to making the decision. The University created a working group to push the policy through, consisting of the directors of the health center and counseling center, University legal services, housing, the Department of Public Safety and Dean of Students Paul Shang.
“I think that we need a policy change, but it should be a change consulting students, SASS (Sexual Assault Support Services), and other sexual assault programs,” said University junior Alex Sylvester, a co-creator of the SEA and University resident assistant.
The change in the policy was originally prompted by a letter read by Vice President Joe Biden while he was visiting the University of New Hampshire to raise awareness and announce the Obama administration’s effort to help the nation’s schools address sexual violence in April 2011.
The letter, titled “Dear Colleague,” stated that the University of New Hampshire was a flagship program to the administration because they focused mostly on preventative action. After the letter was announced, the University took action to change its system to adhere to the vice president’s idea of a better system.
University junior Nina Nolen, a new SEA member and current ASUO senator, doesn’t believe that the change made the University’s system a better system.
“What we had before this change was good,” Nolen said. “I attended a feminism conference before any change was announced and the University was one of the few schools that got an ‘A’ rating (in assault reporting policies).”
The University has wanted to make a change for a while, according to Nolen. She believes that the University now has a reason to do it and is jumping at the opportunity.
“I feel like the administration hasn’t thought about the consequences (of the policy),” Nolan said.
The system of mandatory reporting is the same used in Oregon’s children abuse law. If an assault is reported to a educator, he or she has a contractual obligation to report the assault to his or her superior. Nolen said that comparing the system to be put into place at the University to the state child abuse law was offensive to her and members of the SEA.
“The policy is a policy used with students,” Nolen said. “Why should they be treating students the same way?”
Anonymous reporting was on the ballot for the most recent ASUO election and won with an 84 percent margin of victory — a huge step forward for the campaign against mandatory reporting policies, Snodgrass said.
The SEA will be meeting with the working group on April 23, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in an open panel discussion.