UMass student testifies at State House in support of two sexual assault-related bills

State reps. and state senators also spoke

%28Courtesy+of+Nora+Gallo%29
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UMass student testifies at State House in support of two sexual assault-related bills

(Courtesy of Nora Gallo)

(Courtesy of Nora Gallo)

(Courtesy of Nora Gallo)

(Courtesy of Nora Gallo)

By Abigail Charpentier, News Editor

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University of Massachusetts student Nora Gallo testified at the Massachusetts State House in front of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education in support of two sexual assault-related bills on Tuesday, April 9.

Gallo, a junior dance major, sat alongside her father, UMass biology professor Peter Houlihan.

“Testifying was an insane experience,” Gallo said. “I’m a survivor. And it was the first time speaking out in a public setting about my experience. And it was really empowering. I was shaking the whole time, completely shaking.”

As a senior in high school, Gallo applied early action to UMass. After being accepted, she didn’t apply to any other schools.

“So I went to UMass, I was really excited. And then I just… it was just devastating,” Gallo said. “And if I had understood the rate of sexual assault at UMass – and I don’t have statistics…but just from hearing stories, it’s really horrifying – I probably would have looked to go elsewhere or looked to live at home since I’m local.”

Now, Gallo is the outreach coordinator of the UMass chapter of It’s On Us. Sonia Guglani, a marketing and economics senior, brought It’s On Us to campus in September of 2018.

“I have way too many friends and I know too many people at UMass [who] were personally affected by sexual assault and harassment, and we felt that we needed to hold the University accountable and create a safe space for survivors,” Guglani said.

Guglani is also the regional director for the Every Voice Coalition – a group of students, activists and survivors from every college in Massachusetts with a goal to pass two bills through the Massachusetts State House. Each bill has a House and Senate version.

The first bill is H.1208/S.736, “An Act requiring sexual misconduct climate surveys at institutions of higher education.” The bill would create a task force of experts, students and public and private university representatives to write a standard campus climate survey that is distributed to every institution of higher education in Massachusetts.

The bill states that the report would include information on “the number of reported incidents of sexual misconduct at the institution of higher education; when and where incidents of sexual misconduct occurred; student awareness of institutional policies and procedures related to campus sexual assault,” as well as other facts about each incident and how the college or university responded.

“Basically, right now, universities are able to hide it under the rug as to how many assaults happen, and this bill would hold every university accountable at some of the public. So that way people have this information prior to applying to college,” Guglani said.

The second bill is Bill H.632/ Bill S.706, “An Act relative to sexual violence on higher education campuses.” This bill would uphold Title IX back to the Obama Administrations’ standards and regulations where, as Guglani explained, “perpetrators need to be held accountable, there needs to be training and support on different campuses and the Title IX rules need to be shown publicly on university websites.”

Its On Us is also interested in the anti-retaliation measure included in this bill to protect students; even if the person assaulted has broken the Student Code of Conduct, they can come forward without being penalized by the University.

As the bill states, “If a conflict of interest arises for an institution in which a confidential resource advisor is advocating for the reporting party’s need for sexual assault crisis services or campus or law enforcement services, the institution shall not discipline, penalize or otherwise retaliate against the confidential resource advisor for representing the interest of the reporting party.”

Guglani added the testimony was “super emotional, but also super inspiring.” With state representatives, state senators and survivors from almost every school in the state also testifying, she hopes officials will now prioritize these issues.

“I think it really just goes to show volumes as to how serious of an epidemic this is and how serious of an issue this is. So definitely I think we made a great step in the right direction. And we look forward to continuing the fight as the bills continue to be in circulation.”

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.