Student government leaders from a dozen New York-area colleges and universities met with Presidential Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls Tina Tchen on Tuesday morning to share how the White House’s new campaign against sexual assault will fit with efforts already underway on campus.
"We want to have justice, and we want to have victims become survivors," Jarrett said.
During the 45-minute discussion, students shared what’s happening at their schools, from new advisory councils to outreach programs to free shuttles for students. They also aired their concerns about what last week’s launch of the “It’s on Us” bystander intervention campaign left out.
The campaign’s first push, which launched on Friday, has seen early success. By Monday night, more than 3 million people had viewed the “It’s on Us” PSA video, and more than 41,000 people had signed the campaign’s bystander intervention pledge. The White House plans to roll out PSAs aimed at a variety of audiences, as well as to encourage schools to re-examine their current sexual assault policies. The site also includes toolkits that students and schools can download and incorporate into existing sexual assault campaigns.
Students at Tuesday’s roundtable made it clear that much more needs to be done than just bystander intervention. Among the actions students discussed as priorities: Increasing bystander intervention programs and consent education programs to events that happen more than just once freshman year, focusing on athletic programs and the fraternity and sorority system, and helping students at commuter schools and non-traditional campuses remain safe and supported.
“You’re a great conduit to the administrators of your universities,” Jarrett said to the roundtable.
Students at some schools have already tried. At Harvard, students lobbied the school’s president to adopt an “affirmative consent” standard in its new sexual assault policy. And at Columbia Unversity, students criticized President Lee Bollinger for not including enough student input in new rules. Students there have also rallied around Emma Sulkowicz, a student whose senior art thesis involves carrying a mattress everywhere she goes until her alleged rapist leaves campus.
The school band there has also acted to set its own rules for sexual assault. Jarrett and Tchen said “It’s on Us” is there to help students in every student group or association find a way to be proactive about stopping sexual assault, and to help communities work together better.
“Survivors and advocacy groups have been leading the charge, they’ve been leading on their own,” Tchen said. “They need student governments to get behind them … You’re the vehicle to engage with the glee club president, and the band president, and the Greek life folks, folks who don’t necessarily see this as their issue, to see that it is your issue, because it’s everybody’s issue.”
Creating a network of student leaders and strong policies and programs at every campus right now is start, Sejal Singh, a Columbia senior and vice president of policy in the University’s student government said that school administrations must do more to make sure their policies comply with federal law.
“People forget that this has been a 30 year movement, and that people have been having these conversations every five years at every college campus across the country,” Singh told msnbc, but students shouldn’t be the only ones talking. “Universities are ultimately responsible for keeping us safe. We’re happy to step in in the interim because we refuse to be on campuses where students are being assaulted and nothing is being done about it, but it’s not our responsibility. Title IX requires that the university makes this a safe environment.”
The White House task force is still working with schools to provide more guidance on how to comply with Title IX while still respecting student privacy and due process, and in two years, what are now voluntary campus climate surveys become mandatory for all schools that receive federal funds. And, Jarrett told msnbc, the White House continues to work closely with the group of Senators pushing legislation on the subject. A bill introduced this July would increase the possible enforcement options for the Department of Education.
“It’s on us, but it can’t just be on us,” Singh said.