Washington, DC – As the President prepares to discuss his proposal to help make college more affordable, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the White House and Congress to also make campuses safer. Senator Gillibrand discussed the bipartisan legislation she introduced last fall, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which will be reintroduced this Congress. She invited Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student and campus sexual assault survivor, as her guest to attend the President’s address. Sulkowicz joined Senator Gillibrand last April in New York City to tell her story publicly for the first time and help launch the effort in Congress to combat the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released the following statement today as the President prepares to speak before the nation in his State of the Union address:
“Early reports indicate that President Obama’s speech will focus on improving the lives of our middle-class families. We’re finally starting to measure improvement in our economy – but there is no doubt that when it comes to helping hard-working families make ends meet, we still have a lot of work to do. But I am encouraged by the early reports of the president focusing on the economic issues that deeply affect our state – like paid family medical leave.
“Right now, in 2015, new parents still aren’t guaranteed paid leave with the birth or adoption of a new child, or if they need to care for a sick loved one. We’re the only industrialized nation left in the world that hasn’t established paid leave. I’m pleased the President is taking this important first step, and I stand ready to work with him, as well as my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to pass my proposal, the FAMILY Act.
“I’m also eager to hear more about the President’s plan to reduce the tax burden on middle-class families. We know lower- and middle-class families can pay higher tax rates than the wealthiest Americans. I’ve long said that we need to close these loopholes, and I look forward to working on a plan that provides tax relief for those who need it the most – like recent college graduates. The debt that students and their families face is staggering, and I hope the President’s renewed focus on college affordability will help us carry out the reforms that students desperately need.
“And while we focus on making college more affordable, I hope the President also talks about the need to make our campuses safer. For too long, colleges and universities across the country have been playing down, or even ignoring, the scourge of sexual assaults that continue to take place on their campuses, because the current system actually rewards colleges for ignoring these crimes. Students across the country are demanding more safety on their campuses, and unless we flip those reporting incentives, we will continue to see little accountability.
“Now is the time to pass the bipartisan campus sexual assault bill that my colleagues and I introduced last year. I hope the President will seize the opportunity tonight to make this case to the American people. If a university student faces a harsher punishment for cheating on a test than for committing a violent act of sexual assault, then we are failing our young people, we are failing America’s parents, and we are failing to live up to our ideals.
“My invited guest at the State of the Union tonight is Emma Sulkowicz, a brave young student who was raped, and who has had the courage to demand better from her university and from this Congress. Under the current system, survivors like Emma can’t rely on their college or university for a fair hearing, and they don’t always feel like they can go to law enforcement. Instead, just to be heard, they have to relive the most humiliating moments of their lives to a reporter, or walk around campus carrying a mattress. Congress and this nation should not accept that a young woman like Emma has to share with the whole world the details of the worst night of her life, just to capture her school’s attention.
“I hope that the President will use his speech tonight to draw the nation’s attention to this serious problem, and on the movement of survivors and advocates across the country who have bravely raised their voices in this fight.And I hope that the momentum created by this nationwide, grass-roots student movement will finally push Congress to pass a good law that will make our campuses safer.”
Last Congress Senator Gillibrand introduced the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act with Senators Claire McCaskill, Dean Heller, Richard Blumenthal, Chuck Grassley, Kelly Ayotte, Mark Warner and Marco Rubio. The legislation would flip the incentives so that colleges and universities are encouraged to report rape and sexual assault incidents, establish better support systems for survivors, and hold offenders responsible. It will be reintroduced in this Congress.
The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating 12 New York colleges – more than any other state in the nation – for mishandling sexual assault cases. The pending investigations into schools’ Title IX compliance related to sexual violence follow a public outcry about the poor treatment of survivors and a lack of punishment for perpetrators at schools across the nation.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would encourage schools to directly address these incidents by:
1. Establishing new campus resources and support services for student survivors;
2. Ensuring minimum training standards for on-campus personnel;
3. Creating new historic transparency requirements;
4. Increasing campus accountability and coordination with law enforcement; and
5. Establishing enforceable Title IX penalties and stiffer penalties for Clery Act violations.