UMass administration faces pressure to pass student-supported Survivor’s Bill of Rights

“Survivor justice is something that survivors should make decisions about”

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Lucas Ruud and Rachel Comeau

In light of recent sexual assault allegations against fraternities at the University of Massachusetts, University administration is being pressured to approve and pass the UMass Survivor’s Bill of Rights (SBOR). The Bill is a student-drafted document seeking to improve the treatment of sexual assault victims and prevent instances of sexual violence on campus.

Among many provisions listed in the Bill are access to 24/7 rape crisis services without the need to file a formal complaint, accommodations to academic and living situations and amnesty for alcohol and drug use in the case of an assault. Additionally, the document urges the University to collect and publicize more data related to sexual violence on campus.

The Bill was originally passed in a referendum by more than 1,500 UMass students in March 2020. Despite its 92 percent approval rating, the Bill has yet to be approved by UMass administration.

“It’s one of the best majorities we’ve ever seen for a ballot suggestion,” said former Secretary of University Policy Sara McKenna.

In the week following the initial allegations, UMass students organized and led protests and demonstrations to urge the University to make changes to sexual assault policy and hold those responsible for assaults responsible. McKenna was among many students advocating for the passage of the Bill at a demonstration at the Theta Chi fraternity on Sunday, Sept. 19.

At the demonstration, hundreds of protestors were given a QR code with instructions to email campus administrators in support of the Survivor’s Bill of Rights. “I urge you to implement the Survivor’s Bill of Rights without delay – justice and empowerment can’t wait,” read the recommended statement.

“Survivor justice is something that survivors should make decisions about,” Student Trustee Barkha Bhandari said at the protest. Bhandari continued her vocal support at a Student Government Association (SGA) meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22, in which she and numerous other SGA members restated their support of the Bill.

UMass SGA Attorney General Bradley Marcosa was also present at the SGA meeting on Wednesday. A significant portion of his speech offered support to survivors and urged UMass administration to take action.

“Their days are numbered,” Marcosa said in reference to the “toxic” institutions currently in place handling sexual assault allegations and cases on-campus.

One of the most prominent voices supporting the Survivor’s Bill of Rights was Administrative Affairs Committee Chair Hayden Latimer-Ireland. Latimer-Ireland runs the @umasssurvivorsrights Instagram account and is cited as one of the Bill’s writers.

For months, Latimer-Ireland has been encouraging UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to enact the heavily supported legislation.

“It is important that the administration recognizes they have the chance to do something really amazing for the students and I hope they take advantage of it,” Latimer-Ireland said.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that we’ve been doing it [pushing administration to accept the Bill] this long,” she continued.

Bhandari added, “The administration should be listening to student governance… but more than that they should be listening to so many other students, and centering survivors in the conversation of survivor justice.”

In an email to the UMass community following the Theta Chi demonstrations, Vice Chancellor Brandi Hephner LaBanc addressed the Bill’s prevalence.

“Last semester we began working with leaders in the Student Government Association to review the Survivors’ Bill of Rights and align it with federal Title IX laws to facilitate adoption,” the email read. “This effort is still underway.”

At the time of the statement, Latimer-Ireland and her colleagues had not received any follow up from administration regarding the Survivor’s Bill of Rights despite overwhelming support within and outside of the SGA.

In the wake of the indignation surrounding allegations against Theta Chi in particular, Latimer-Ireland is cautiously optimistic that the administration will listen to the needs of the students.

“This is the best chance we’ve ever seen,” Latimer-Ireland said.

District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Unit: (413) 586-5780

Center for Women & Community Rape Hotline: (413) 545-0800

Spanish Speaking Assistance: 1-800-223-5001

Lucas Ruud can be reached at [email protected]. Rachel Comeau can be reached at [email protected].