The UMass community needs and deserves a Survivor’s Bill of Rights for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence — a set of indisputable rights that are recognized and enforced by the university, and which allow survivors to hold the University accountable when these rights are violated.
Current policies and resources available to survivors are simply not enough — they are underpublicized and inaccessible, and too often ignore the true needs of survivors. During our time at UMass, we have met many student survivors and been survivors ourselves. A lot of survivors at UMass don’t know what resources are available to them, and others can’t access some of these resources because they would need to file a formal report in order to receive accommodations and support services. Though some survivors have chosen not to report their cases, many feel pressure to report by law enforcement officials and medical examiners. Further exacerbating these issues, the university conduct process is neither transparent nor speedy. Many survivors choose not to report for these reasons, which contributes to low statistics of reported cases, and prevents them from accessing the resources they need.
Survivors have a right to have their cases investigated by impartial, trauma-informed professionals with extensive backgrounds in understanding sexual assault and gender-based violence. Survivors also need and deserve easily accessible, confidential, trauma-informed resources that specifically address the needs of individual survivors, including disability, socioeconomic status, mental health, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. These resources should be available to them without having to interact with the police department.
The university must see sexual violence as an institutional problem and ensure campus-wide accountability through centralized policies that center the voices of students and survivors. Some of the actions the university should take to end sexual violence include establishing a task force to address campus sexual violence, continually developing a framework of policies and supportive services for students, and increasing comprehensive trainings and education for staff, faculty, and students on sexual and dating violence.
We are not the first group of students that believe UMass is not doing enough to protect students and support survivors. Students and organizations before us have brought similar concerns to university administrators and have been dismissed or ignored. This pattern cannot continue. UMass administrators may believe that the resources and processes currently in place are sufficient, but coming from our own experiences and the experiences of our peers, we know they are lacking. UMass must do better. We cannot continue to be complacent – survivors deserve better. As college students, the burden of protecting our community should not fall onto ourselves. We came here for our education, not to fight for our safety. UMass has a responsibility towards its students to guarantee a safe environment for all. But because of past inaction, it is our responsibility to bring awareness to this issue and advocate for change because we don’t want more members of our campus community to further get hurt.
If you believe survivors, make sure to go on Campus Pulse and vote YES on the Survivor’s Bill of Rights referendum question recommending the university to adopt. Voting is open Thursday, March 18 – Monday, March 22 at 4PM. This is the first step to push the university to ensure survivors get the support they need in order to heal and continue being successful at UMass.
Carla Montilla, Audrey Gabriel, Timothy Scalona, Hayden Latimer-Ireland, Sara McKenna
Student Government Association