Students Demand Accountability: Survivors' Bill of Rights
On March 20, 2023, the Boston University Student Government passed the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, proposed by the 16,000 Strong Committee.
The Bill of Rights, a nine-page document outlining the ways in which Boston University administrators should treat and process accounts of student sexual assault, was passed on Monday, March 20, by the BU student government senate.
The document was proposed by the 16,000 Strong Committee, BU’s on-campus student government group dedicated to educating and empowering the BU campus against sexual assault and working toward techniques for response and prevention. A representative from the group, Annie Mayne (COM ’23), delivered a compelling speech before the BU Senate on February 27 in favor of passing the Bill of Rights. She, along with a group of students led by Hanna Dworkin (CAS ‘24), Senate Chair and co-sponsor of the bill, and Kaylan Comenole, a Senator from the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism (CGSA) party, have been working on the bill for two years. Dozens of survivors, staff experts, and other student members of the CGSA and It’s on Us (a social movement present at many colleges, including BU, that fights against sexual assault on university campuses) have also assisted in this effort.
The bill lists administrative requirements for BU going forward to support and serve victims of sexual assault on campus. Namely, it emphasizes the need for trauma-educated professionals to cover sexual assault cases. These professionals would be trained by the university’s SARP (Sexual Assault Response and Prevention) team in collaboration with 16,000 Strong, CGSA, and It’s On Us, all organizations centered around sexual assault education. Additionally, the bill will solidify the need for specified timelines of assault cases to be carried out so that students are not left with unresolved cases. In the past, cases have been dismissed after a student or perpetrator has graduated; this bill emphasizes the need to carry out cases to fruition in order to provide closure for the survivor, explained Mayne in her speech.
Additionally, the document covers provisions by the university to supply mental health support, legal services, and medical care to victims of sexual assault at no cost to the student. It will protect financial aid packages, scholarships, and grants for any lost tuition should the student need to withdraw or take a temporary leave of absence as a result of assault. It also includes protecting a student’s transcript from receiving a ‘W’ should the student need to drop a class at a late date.
The bill provides a modified explanation of consent, “that defines consent as an affirmative, conscious, enthusiastic, continuous, revocable, sober, informed, specific, freely given, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. [Under these new provisions,] the University must consider an explicitly understood ‘yes’ as a standard for consent”. In addition, it provides new mandates for the required consequences for those who commit sexual assault, specifically that the perpetrator be suspended for the remainder of time the victim is a student at BU or that the perpetrator will be expelled altogether. Those found responsible of sexual misconduct will have a mark on their transcript, even if they transfer colleges. The bill additionally provides protection in the form of enforced ‘stay-away’ orders between the survivor and perpetrator following a formal complaint being filed.
The bill includes many detailed provisions and goals to enforce accountability aimed at protecting students from future sexual assault on campus, as well as provides instruction to consolidate sexual assault response information into one all-encompassing location on the BU website. Going forward, the university administration is to use this Bill of Rights as a guide for sexual misconduct and shall publish aggregate yearly data on the occurrence of sexual assault on campus.
This document was originally inspired by similar movements to create a Survivor’s Bill of Rights at UMass Amherst and Stanford University, according to Mayne. The bill is a working document, meaning it can be altered by future members of the 16,000 Strong Committee as deemed fit. The passing of the bill is representative of a massive two-year effort by many BU students, alumni, and experts, and it signifies an important step forward in protecting survivors of sexual assault.
The Boston University Administration has not released an official statement in response yet.
*Annie Mayne is an editor at the BPR; however, she had no part in writing or editing this article.