On July 16, Generation Progress (formerly Campus Progress) hosted its annual Make Progress National Summit at in Washington, D.C. Bringing together top public officials, activists, experts, and journalists, the conference focused on how Millennials can develop their ideas to create a more progressive America. Me and my fellow Feminist Majority Foundation interns Beth and Kathleen attended the conference and heard from speakers such as Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. Filled with plenary sessions and training breakout sessions, all participants engaged in panel discussions and group exercises that challenged them to think critically about the most important issues our country faces today.
One of the issue breakout panels, “1 in 5: What’s Being Done To Prevent Sexual Assault and Support Survivors,” addressed the successes and failures in current legislation surrounding campus sexual assault and steps students could take on their own campuses to effect change. Michele Jawando, senior advisor to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, moderated a diverse panel of experts in this field: Andy MacCracken (National Campus Leadership Council), Dana Bolger (Know Your IX), Fatima Gross Graves (National Women’s Law Center), and Anne Hedgepeth (American Association of University Women.) Much of the discussion centered around how campuses are responding to changes in reporting procedures and judicial oversight.
Some panelists recommended that campuses better inform students about their Title IX rights, take proactive measures to train school employees on how to respond appropriately, and change the culture surrounding sexual assault so that men can play an active role in preventing future incidents. Noting the great strides our campuses need to make in the coming months and years, the panelists then addressed various barriers victims face in achieving justice. A survivor may choose not to report because first responders are not trained well enough to ask a survivor appropriate questions, untrained judicial panels may overwhelmingly favor the accused student, and the criminal justice system is not set up to handle practical changes that a student may need immediately (moving out of a dorm, switching classes, having a “no contact” order). Congress, they agreed, needs to enforce proposed changes in new legislation and ensure that schools are doing everything in the best interests of their students.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also spoke on the subject of campus sexual assault in a moderated panel discussion. Gillibrand remarked that schools need to be more transparent and accountable, as discovered in her joint survey with Senators McCaskill (D-MO) and Blumenthal (D-CN) to identify what schools are currently doing to address sexual assault. Gillibrand also recognized the efforts of “brave young women who have come forward” to share their stories, both on their college campuses and through online campaigns. She referred to the statistic that a woman is more likely to be sexually assaulted in college than if she were not in college and urged colleges to do better for their students.
Similarly, Vice President Joe Biden gave an impassioned speech on the great issues our generation faces, including campus sexual assault. He called the Violence Against Women Act his “proudest piece of legislation” and affirmed his “no tolerance” policy on campus sexual assault. He called on men to speak out against violence against women and join the nationwide effort to change the culture that surrounds sexual assault. Backed by the support of college women across the nation, legislators are optimistic that a solution will be reached.
This optimism is not unfounded. Jawando, during the panel discussion, noted the unique situation our country is in right now. “It’s not often that you have all these institutions focused on one issue, trying to find a solution,” she described. “But with student activists holding their colleges, and the government, accountable, we are sure to see change soon.”