Students release sexual assault demands

BY GRACE ZIPPERER, STAFF WRITER

During Patriots in Action Week, which ran from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, student government helped spread the word about the Women and Gender Studies department’s sexual assault prevention demands for the Mason administration. This event was part of an ongoing effort to involve more students in the pledge to end sexual assault on campus.

Patriots in Action Week is a student government project that looks to prevent sexual assault and educate the community on gender violence, according to student government’s website.

Pablo Ramírez Uribe, the secretary for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs for Student Government, was heavily involved in organizing the events of the week and has been the primary student government contact in overseeing the demands.

“The events [last] week all had the purpose of helping students understand, in an institutional sense, what they can be involved in and what they can expect from the university administration and student government,” Uribe said.

Ramírez Uribe said that during the “Vigil and What’s Next” show, the last event of Patriots in Action held Friday evening, the demands were discussed in more detail.

“The Vigil centered on highlighting the events of the week, having a moment of remembrance for sexual assault survivors and pledging to continue the fight against sexual assault. After Patriots in Action we need to continue to provide tools to end sexual violence on campus,” Ramírez Uribe said.

Ramírez Uribe added that student government has a critical role to play in continuing to check on the demands.

“They are an accumulation of work-in-the-making for a long time,” Ramírez Uribe said.

The demands were first presented to the university Oct. 4 during a nationwide event called Take Back the Night where Ramírez Uribe was co-master of ceremony. According to the Take Back the Night Foundation’s website, the event focuses on ending all kinds of sexual violence.

Ramírez Uribe said that the event was the perfect place to release the demands.

“The name of the event refers to the night as a space where fear of being alone and the fear of rape is especially uncomfortable for women and victims of sexual assault,” Ramírez Uribe said. “The night can apply to any space metaphorically where comfort is taken away because of lack of closure, justice and societal understanding towards victims of sexual violence.”

However, there has been a gap in communication with university administration since the official release of the demands. Ramírez Uribe confirmed that while the administration had heard about the demands, they were not directly given to them.

“It ended up working out that during Patriots in Action, I was able to meet with Rose Pascarell [the University Life Vice President] to discuss the demands and establish direct communication. We talked about how all of the demands are already in the works and being addressed in one upcoming policy or another,” Ramírez Uribe said.

Mary Ann Vega, one of the creators of the demands and co-MC of Take Back the Night, also met with the new Title IX coordinator, Jennifer Hammat, during Patriots in Action to discuss the demands.

According to Mason’s Compliance, Diversity and Ethics website, Mason is in compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which states “Sexual assault and sexual harassment are forms of sex discrimination [and are] prohibited [at the university].”

Hammat’s job as the Title IX coordinator is to assist any student, staff or faculty member who is concerned about “sex discrimination or sexual misconduct” as well as assist in policy implementation.

“All of the items on the list are being addressed in one form or another by the Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence implementation team and out of the Title IX shop here in Compliance, Diversity and Ethics, in collaboration with other campus partners,” Hammat said.

One of the demands that requested a campus survey has already been implemented. A Task Force on Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence was created by President Cabrera in 2014 and is made up of Mason faculty, staff, students and community members. In their Final Report published Feb. 28, 2015, the force’s eighth recommendation stated the university should initiate a campus climate survey on sexual assault.

The “Mason Speaks: Sexual Violence Survey” was sent Oct. 23 through the official university email server. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights have identified these surveys as the best practice to generate data on sexual violence on campuses, according to the United States Department of Justice’s website.

“By seeing the results of this confidential survey,” Ramírez Uribe said, “sexual assault on campus becomes more tangible in our minds. Sexual assault is so prevalent, but we [as a society] are so resistant to get to the bottom of it.”

Ramírez Uribe said he is confident there will be opportunities for student government to continue to work closely with Pascarell and others in continuing the goals of the demands.

Sara Alhariri, an attendee of Take Back the Night who has experienced sexual assault, said she one hundred percent agrees with the demands because she believes it is crucial to have a supportive environment in the university’s administration.

“[The way Mason] can help get rid of the victim stigma in society,” Alhariri said, is “by allowing victims to become something more beautiful: survivors.”

Here is the List of Demands:

We demand that sexual assault prevention experts/experts on sexual violence should not only be consulted during the policy making process, but their opinion should be a vital part of the decision making process.

We demand the release of regular updates on what progress is being made on the recommendations released by the Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Task Force.

We demand the implementation of sexual assault prevention programming that students can participate in annually during their academic career.

We demand a reporting system that takes into account the fear victims of sexual assault experience when reporting to police/the university.

We demand that the waiver used by the Mason Police Department be removed as it makes it harder for advocates to work with students while they are in crisis and the use of the waiver can suggest that advocates do not have confidential relationship with the student.

We demand for all departments that interact with victims during the reporting process to be trained in trauma informed responses to sexual assault disclosures.

We demand that the hearing process be designed alongside experts in sexual violence prevention or scholars who focus on sexual violence.

We demand the hearing process be equitable, realistic in its needs, and trauma informed.

We demand policies in place to provide financial support for students who have been sexually assaulted and need to drop out of school.

We demand trigger warnings on all timely warnings sent out about sexual violence.

We demand a staff member for Counseling and Psychological Services that has experience in providing support to victims of sexual violence and intimate partner violence.  

We demand an updated statement on the availability of resources and options for victims of sexual assault and interpersonal violence for use by faculty.

We demand sustained funding support and emphasis on sexual assault service provision since Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education and Services has been absorbed by Student Support Services.

The list of demands and where to sign if you so choose can also be found at the following link:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfkIhuf3vsOLqOlYQxuPbiGhPhfFCEMwxGz7AOtgolmRNyKFA/viewform