Lieutenant Governor encourages campus vigilance

New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Hochul spoke at Vassar, urging students and administrators alike to be vigilant in eliminating sexual assault and violence on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Vassar College/Karl Rabe
New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Hochul spoke at Vassar, urging students and administrators alike to be vigilant in eliminating sexual assault and violence on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Vassar College/Karl Rabe
New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Hochul spoke at Vassar, urging students and administrators alike to be vigilant in eliminating sexual assault and violence on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Vassar College/Karl Rabe

Cultural change in the perception and treatment of sexual assault crimes on col­lege campuses continues to lag behind state standards established in 2015 by Senate Bill S5965, commonly referred to as the “Enough Is Enough” legislation. During her visit to campus on Nov. 7, Lieutenant Governor of New York Kathleen Hochul called for administrators and student leaders to fully enact the letter and the spirit of the law by granting greater protections to college students and in particular survivors of sexual assault.

Hochul presented sexual assault as the behav­ior of a criminal minority tolerated by a complicit social milieu, stating, “Assaults are committed by three percent of the college campus men. So it’s a small percentage of people who, on a weekend, rape someone on Saturday, rape someone the next Friday, and keep getting away with it because there’s a culture of silence. Victims think people won’t believe them, or they just don’t want to cause trouble for one of the athletes. Okay, we can get that three percent—we can knock that down to zero percent.”

The goals of administrators and students in the community resonated greatly with Hochul’s stance on sexual assault crimes. Women’s Center intern Darci Siegel ’20 reflected, “Encouraging students to be active participants in making their campus a safer place is a great first step to beginning to deconstruct rape culture on campus. Student lead­ership is important: in order to make change on campus, we need to support one another and en­courage each other to stand up, speak out and have zero tolerance for sexual assault and violence.”

Speaking about future goals, Director of Safety and Security Arlene Sabo corroborated, “We need to continue to focus on improvements and culture change in this area. We cannot say, ‘Good enough, we’ve complied with the law.’ I, like all those ded­icated to this issue, aspire to see a day when our work is complete—the day rapists understand they will not get away with rape at Vassar or anywhere else, the day when people are fully respected and violence is clearly unacceptable.”

The Enough Is Enough legislation itself man­dated the distribution of Students’ Bill of Rights on college campuses, redefined consent as an affirma­tive and knowing speech act, created specialized police units to help local law enforcement with handling sexual assault incidents and instituted survivor-centered reporting for the prosecution of sexual assault crimes. Despite the wide scope of these legislative changes, Hochul pointed out, there are still an inadequate number of existing programs on many college campuses. “I know that we’re required to do orientation training at the be­ginning of the year. That’s great. But I want to go beyond check-the-box policies,” she said. “This has to go on, and this has to be constantly in front of students almost every weekend.”

According to Hochul, social change generated by local leadership on each campus is necessary to give force to the legislation. She posited, “Can there be something set by the students? … Is it a text that goes out 10 or 11 o’clock every Friday or Saturday night? Hey, text a copy of this [bill of rights], or remember to watch out for your friends and don’t overdo it.” Hochul emphasized the unique role played by students in this effort, going on to remark, “I encourage you to be creative, be creative on social media, through conversations, about what goes on here because you can do that far better than we can in Albany.”

At the administrative level, Sabo noted, “We have invested time, money and resources into this extremely important issue. The [Interim] Presi­dent [Jonathan Chenette] has put together a mul­tidisciplinary Advisory Group which will help us to coordinate our efforts. It’s important that offic­es are working off the same page, knowledgeable of all resources on campus and the issues all are facing in forwarding culture change.” Similarly, Di­rector of Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Charlotte Strauss Swanson said, “In SAVP we have been working to improve and expand the work­shops and trainings that we offer. Additionally, we want to continue to collaborate with diverse com­munities in our programming efforts, grow our support and advocacy services, and most impor­tantly listen to the student body in regards to what improvements they want to see on our campus.”

Hochul’s legislative efforts and general aware­ness campaign has paved the way for future leaders and advocates for the survivors of sexual violence. Siegel declared, “I am a strong believer that voic­es and stories inspire change. The work that Lt. Gov. Hochul has done pushing for legislative and administrative change has shown us exactly why having women in politics is so crucial to making statewide—and hopefully nationwide—change. The work that she does acts as a driving force of inspiration for students like us who are working to ignite change on our individual campuses.”

Describing the kind of student-led initiative that Hochul finds crucial to the ultimate success of the Enough Is Enough legislation and eliminating sexual violence on campus more broadly, Siegel continued, “Our recent Take Back the Night Rally was held in October, which was Domestic/Inti­mate Partner Violence Awareness month. We had student guest speakers share their own stories and truths as well as poems, songs and words of en­couragement and solidarity … By coming together as a community and raising our voices, we aim to spread awareness and take a stand against sexual assault, rape, domestic/intimate partner violence and any other form of sexual violence. We ended with a candlelight vigil in solidarity and support of victims of sexual violence, and as a community dedicated to ending rape and abuse on campus.”

Over the course of her address to the campus community, Hochul situated the general aware­ness campaign on sexual assault in the context of the first few campaigns against domestic violence about 40 years ago. She recalled, “Ultimately, I’m hoping that by the awareness that we’re creating around this, that we shift the attitudes about cam­pus assault. And I’m telling you why I’m convinced that this can happen. Back in the 1970s, there was something called wife-beating. That was what it was called back then. My mother was one of the first advocates for victims of wife-beating and it morphed into the phrase domestic violence. It was a time in our state when we did not have laws to protect the wives because basically women were viewed as the property of a man.”

Hochul continued, “If a woman was being beat­en by her husband, picked up the phone and called 911, when the police came to the door, the husband could answer and say, ‘Don’t worry, everything is okay here, she’s just a little out of control and I had to take care of things.’ They would say, ‘Oh okay, that’s understandable,’ and move on.” Considering intergenerational change, Hochul summarized, “That was the culture we had in our country when I was growing up. I don’t think anyone would think that’s acceptable today … People who commit these crimes are now ostracized. I want that to happen with respect to sexual assault on campuses.”

Looking forward to advocacy in the near future, Siegel described, “I am starting a series of discus­sion based workshops called the ‘Real Talk Series’ where students of all races, genders and sexual identities can come together and discuss issues of sexual assault, sexism and inequality, among many other topics. We will be working closely with YES [Yes for Equality and Safety of All Bodies] to ex­plore next steps we can take to raise our voices and inspire change on campus. As a community, we need to continue an open conversation about what safe, consensual and positive sex looks like.” Chen­ette agreed in an email, “The College will benefit greatly from their ideas and dedicated partnership with campus offices to improve our policies, com­munications and practices.”

Siegel concluded, “There are still many discus­sions to be had about the axis and intersections of race, class, gender and sexual identity and how they play into acts of sexual aggression and vio­lence. I recognize that these are not easy conver­sations to have, but with the bravery and passion of the students we have here on campus, I know anything’s possible!”

Reiterating her stance of zero tolerance, Ho­chul urged, “Let Vassar be known as the ones who did not just check the box off on the first day of orientation, as the ones who kept this going, who brought it to people’s collective consciousness to such a point where nobody engage in [sexual as­sault] because it is not accepted on this campus any longer.”

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