At a time when several student organizations are working to encourage conversation about sexual violence, some fear a bill passed by the Senate would halt their progress.
Senate Bill 576, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would require student organization leaders to report any information they witness or hear regarding sexual assaults to the University’s Title IX office.
Students in these positions who fail to make a report in a timely manner would be suspended for at least a year and face potential expulsion. Huffman said she hopes the bill would provide more accurate numbers of sexual assault occurrences on college campuses.
“By confronting the prevalence of these crimes through the reporting requirements in this bill, Texas colleges can take their first steps toward eliminating sexual assault and violence,” Huffman said last week when the full Senate voted on the bill.
Currently, faculty, staff, teaching assistants and resident assistants are required to report in these instances. LaToya Smith, UT’s Title IX Coordinator, said failure of these individuals to report known instances result in University disciplinary action ranging from a verbal warning to termination depending on the circumstance. There are no mandatory reporting requirements for students not employed in one of these positions.
Meridith McDonald, government junior and president of Not On My Campus, an organization dedicated to promoting conversation about sexual assault prevention, said she believes the bill would discourage survivors who do not want their cases investigated from seeking the help of friends who may hold leadership positions. McDonald said mandatory reporting would change her relationship with those in her organization.
“It would redefine my role, and it won’t let me be so much of a peer and an ally anymore,” McDonald said.
Smith said she has heard from students that the bill’s mandatory reporting requirements may make others more fearful of talking about their sexual assualts.
“I have spoken to certain students and when I have spoken to survivors, there has been a concern that it would be a chilling effect if student organization leaders were required to report,” Smith said.
The bill states these requirements are only applicable to student leaders who obtain information about the incidence of sexual violence while they are acting in their official capacity as an officer of a student organization. Students are acting in this capacity when they are on property owned by the student organization or at an event sponsored by the organization.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was the only senator to vote against the bill last Tuesday. Watson said the mandatory reporting requirement for students would go against Huffman’s stated purpose of
increasing reports to the universities and would instead curb conversations surrounding sexual assaults on campus. An amendment Watson proposed that would have taken out the student reporting requirements failed by a vote of 16-13.
The provisions in the bill would also apply to sorority and fraternity leaders. Joanna Meyer, president of the Christian sorority Sigma Phi Lambda, said she is lucky she hasn’t had to deal with this situation as an officer. However, Meyer said if the bill passes she would still want to protect the anonymity of anyone who wants to confide in her, but sees the potential benefits of the bill.
“I think it would be awkward at first and people may be more scared to, but after the fact, I think it is ensuring more safety,” Meyer, a management information systems junior, said.
As a member of Alpha Phi, McDonald said she believes the bill would infringe on the unrestrained access she has to her leaders.
“One of the most central elements of organizations like sororities and fraternities is having a support system that can help you in any experience you may encounter,” McDonald said. “This bill would punish members of the Greek community for listening to their members and helping them recover.”