Groups of college students across Massachusetts plan to mark the start of the new school year with a letter-writing campaign asking lawmakers to address campus sexual violence.
Students from about 30 different campuses who are “eager to make their voices heard” will be writing personal letters to legislators, John Gabrieli of The Every Voice Coalition told the News Service. The coalition said the letters will be inside red envelopes to draw attention to a period known as the “red zone” — the period between the start of a new school year and Thanksgiving break, when most campus sexual assaults happen.
“It’s about people’s stories,” Gabrieli said. “The statistics are striking and horrifying, the evidence is there and the research has been done, but I think sometimes some of the most impactful ways of changing the conversation is to elevate those people’s stories and experiences that are happening right now on campus.”
The students want the Legislature to advance bills that have remained before the Higher Education Committee, co-chaired by Sen. Anne Gobi and Rep. Jeffrey Roy, since a public hearing on the bills five months ago.
The coalition is taking a “decentralized approach” to the campaign, Gabrieli said, and students will write their own individual messages. The letters will be mailed throughout the fall rather than on a specific day.
Gabrieli said the goal is to help bring students’ voices into the rooms where decisions are made, and to move campus sexual violence bills that the coalition backs “from a consensus to a priority.”
“Sexual violence has been known as a silent epidemic,” he said. “Students and survivors are speaking out and breaking that silence, and now the question is, who will listen?”
Members of The Every Voice Coalition joined dozens of college students and sexual assault survivors at an April hearing, where speakers urged the Higher Education Committee to take quick action on a pair of bills aimed at supporting survivors and providing more information on the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses.
Both bills, the coalition has said, are backed by more than half of the 200-member Legislature.
One (H 1208/S 736), filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich and Sen. William Brownsberger, creates a task force to develop a sexual assault climate survey and would require colleges and universities to conduct the survey every two years and publicly post a summary of the results.
The other (H 1209/S 764), filed by Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Sen. Michael Moore, would require higher education institutions to create and communicate policies on sexual and gender-based violence, mandate prevention training for students, and establish a “confidential resource advisor” to provide information to both survivors and students accused of assault.
The early committee hearing this session came after the House and Senate last year could not reach consensus on addressing the issue. The House and the Senate passed different versions of a climate survey bill in the summer of 2018, with the Senate amending its bill to also include provisions from the broader campus assault bill. The two versions were never reconciled.
Gabrieli said the letter-writing campaign is driven by the urgency students feel about preventing campus assaults.
“For students, it’s not just about the statistics or policies or regulations, it’s about people’s lives who have so much in front of them and every day, every week, every year that we are waiting to take action, it’s another day where our friends and our loved ones are not getting justice,” he said.