Associated Students examine safety, accountability in town hall meeting

For a town hall meeting, the sheer amount of empty chairs in the room may be have been alarming to many, but not as much as the main topic of the discussion: Sexual assault on college campuses

Associated Students of Sonoma State University held a town hall meeting on Thursday, where student leaders hoped to engage in discussion with students in regards to safety and accountability on college campuses.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a topic of discussion at the meeting, was introduced into the U.S. Senate in February 2015. The act would require institutions of higher education to describe to law enforcement serious crimes on campus, including sexual violence.

Specified information regarding the number of sex offenses reported to the institution would also have to be included in their annual campus security report.

Part of the act that would require students to report sexual assaults to police before colleges are allowed to investigate the claims themselves.

Students were quick to mention their overall unawareness of what campus police do in situations involving sexual assault.

For the approximately eight students in attendance, the climax of the discussion occurred when student leaders asked, “Why would someone make the decision as to how and where to get support after an assault?”

Associated Students and students were quick to show understanding as to how serious the aftermath of sexual assault is, along with the belief that the victim should be able to confide in whoever he or she feels comfortable.

The act also states heavy fines, as much as one percent of the institution’s operating budget, will be put on universities who mishandle sexual assault cases.

This could mean a fine of over $500,000 if Sonoma State University doesn’t comply with law enforcement involving these cases on campus, or post the information on its website on how to report sexual assault and the disciplinary procedures.

The use of heavy fines being introduced is possibly because of frustration with some institutions of higher education failing to comply with Title IX. Title IX is a federal law that says all federally funded education programs cannot discriminate based on sex.

While it’sunclear where the Department of Education will use the money collected from fines, Associated Students President Brandon Mercer discussed how he agreed with the idea of schools being fined if they didn’t comply with the act.

“While I do understand it can be easy to be one sided in these discussions,” said Mercer. “I do feel that giving a fine to a school that doesn’t follow protocol is a great idea.”
While the town hall meeting was informative and Associated Students was prepared for an intense discussion they couldn’tfully get students’ opinion based on minimalattendance.

“I think it’s a combination of both time and awareness,” said a student government coordinator in attendance. “We have started to look at how to not only get students to come here but also how we can reach out to them.”

Associated Students discussed ways of reaching out to students by making cards or pamphlets on issues that will be brought up in meetings or written in resolutions.

The real goal of these handouts would be to start conversation with students and get their feedback which would come if they were to go to a town hall meeting.
Mercer and Associated Students Vice President Kate Chavez are hoping to travel to Washington D.C, in the upcoming months to discuss the act and make a resolution possibly supporting the act depending on changes in the language.

The next town hall meeting is scheduled to be held on March 10 at the Student Center in the Sonoma Valley Room at 5 p.m.