The Survivor’s Justice Coalition releases six demands for the UMass administration to follow in handling sexual violence cases and providing support to survivors

The Coalition has been focusing on ways to prevent sexual violence against students on campus

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

On Oct. 21, the Survivor’s Justice Coalition posted a list of six demands for the administration on their Instagram page (@disband.theta.umass). The Instagram page was created following protests of sexual assault allegations against Theta Chi.

The Survivor’s Justice Coalition is a student-led group that focuses on sexual violence pertaining to women, men and queer survivors. The group intends to hold the administration accountable for the handling of sexual violence cases, as well as providing support to survivors.

The Survivor’s Justice Coalition’s list of demands is as follows:

  • “Permanent disassociation from Theta Chi due to their continued violence towards UMass students.”

The Survivor’s Justice Coalition announced they want the University of Massachusetts to permanently disassociate from Theta Chi based on the alleged acts of violence that have been perpetrated over the years.

Anna Morel-Paletta, a sophomore sustainable community development major, explained that the group sent out a survey asking for students to expand upon any negative experiences that students may have had at the fraternity. So far, the survey has collected “65 stories of Theta Chi violence that included sexism, sexual assault, rape, harassment, drugging, physical violence, racism and also homophobia,” Morel-Paletta said.

Because the fraternity is off-campus, there is limited action that the University can take against Theta Chi, which the coalition described as being an obstacle for this demand. According to Morel-Paletta, Theta Chi is in a cross-section between UMass and the town of Amherst. To de-zone the fraternity, either the town of Amherst or the National Charter would need to step in for further procedure of dismantling Theta Chi.

The group also mentioned how Theta Chi can still function even if they are disassociated. This action by the University is a way to hold fraternities accountable. Ava Hawkes, a sophomore social thought and political economy major, stated, “It’s honestly the least that [UMass] can do to publicly dissociate [from Theta Chi].”

  • “Implement the Survivor’s Bill of Rights.”

Hawkes explained the Survivor’s Bill of Rights has been at UMass since 2015. But there are still parts of the bill that need to be tweaked in order to follow state laws and the code of conduct.

The UMass Student Government Association held a meeting last week to discuss the Survivor’s Bill of Rights where they mentioned adjustments made to the amendments and administration feedback on a google spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is accessible to anyone and lays out each amendment.

The coalition explained that the next step for the Survivor’s Bill of Rights is to be passed by the administration by December 2.

  • “Start a student task force to support survivors coming forward with their story. This task force will provide every survivor with an advocate from the group.”

The coalition collectively agreed that having a student task force to support survivors is crucial and beneficial.

“The reasoning behind this is because there’s a lot of mistrust between administration and students,” said Morel-Paletta. “So with this task force, we’re hoping that more people will be comfortable coming forward to the student-led task force and we can give them the options of reporting their case and the resources.”

The student task force would serve as an advocacy group supporting survivors. This demand stems from the Coalition’s disappointment with the administration’s handling of sexual violence.

  • “Create strictly enforced disciplinary guidelines for Greek life.”

The Survivor’s Justice Coalition intends to work with both the administration and the Student Code of Conduct to create disciplinary guidelines for fraternities. This measure would be taken to enforce any rules set in place by the University and “be a deterrent to any other groups” who violate University policy pertaining to sexual violence, said Ryan Lee, senior computer science major.

The coalition specifically want suspensions to be carried out and consolidated into a proper system of discipline. The group are frustrated that fraternities are able to return after suspension. Their demand reinforces liability so if a fraternity reaches a specific number of suspensions, they should be separate from the University.

“There should be a certain point where they’re just completely, permanently disassociated from,” Morel-Paletta said.

The level of transparency from the University on the subject of suspension is vague, according to the Coalition. The group want more clarity from the administration to acknowledge that a fraternity or RSO has been suspended, and the implications that follow.

The group are striving for zero tolerance. Morel-Paletta said that following a suspension, “If there’s tangible change within that fraternity,” such positive change will be accounted for.

  • “Allow a third party to investigate every reported sexual assault case.”

The Coalition came up with this demand because they felt many survivors have been reporting their stories and not being heard. The third party would have the purpose of listening throughout the sexual assault process, making sure the case is being followed through and having a sense of transparency.

“I believe having a third party would help. They will be more likely to give survivors meaningful help, as opposed to being bounced around different departments as might be happening now,” Lee said.

“I think it’s so imperative that we have a third party because it’s evident that the systems of justice at UMass are not doing anything that they need to be doing in order to get the justice that survivors deserve or want,” Michaela DeVos, a freshman women, gender and sexuality studies major, said.

For now, the group isn’t sure who will be making up this third-party system but hope to work with the administration on this.

  • “Centralize sexual assault reporting processes.”

The third party would centralize sexual assault allegations and make sure they are handled fairly for the survivor. It would be considered the first place survivors go to when reporting their incident. Currently, the UMass third party would be considered the UMPD, Title IX and Dean of Students. The coalition explained when speaking with the third party, they felt like the discussion on sexual assault wasn’t being taken seriously.

“The three main ones are Title IX Office, UMPD and the Dean of Students Office. So far, all of them have been like, ‘it’s not me, it must be someone else not taking these reports seriously,’” Morel-Paletta said. “If everyone is pointing fingers at each other, then who are you going to have take accountability?”

“It’s actively against the administration’s interest to do anything that would facilitate people reporting instances of sexual violence.” said Kim Culver, a sophomore majoring in math and environmental science. “Because anything that makes those numbers of reported instances of sexual violence go up, makes the University look bad.”

On Nov. 4, Chancellor Subbaswamy sent an email to students announcing the creation of a Title IX Student Advisory Task Force. The Task Force will work in conjunction with several offices, such as the Dean of Students Office, and Advocacy, Inclusion, and Support programs, and the Equal Opportunity Office.

This student task force is completely independent from the Survivor’s Justice Coalition. Its main goal, as stated in the email, is to be a go-between with students and the administration. Kerri Tillett, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Equal Opportunity and Title IX, will lead the task force.

Liesel Nygard can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LieselNygard. Caitlin Reardon can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @caitlinjreardon. Jadine Reis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @jadine_reis.