WU Greek life speaks out about the Safe Campus Act

Rachel Katzin | Contributing Reporter

After gaining national attention for supporting a bill that many argue will discourage sexual assault victims from reporting their cases, both the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference reversed their stances.

Greek life leaders at Washington University, however, have varying opinions on what the bill might mean for campus.

If passed, the Safe Campus Act would give local law enforcement primary authority in investigating campus sexual assault allegations and greatly limit campus jurisdiction.

The legislation would require universities to report allegations of sexual assault to law enforcement and forbid university police from investigating or convicting any involved party, transferring a majority of power from the university to the state.

Senior Cristina Cox, president of the Washington University chapter of Alpha Phi, opposes the Safe Campus Act and the National Panhellenic Conference’s initial association with it. She said that other Alpha Phi members were also upset that, through their membership in the organization, they were implicitly supporting the act.

“Being a collegiate woman right now and facing these issues right now, and knowing that there are also a lot of people out there going through this experience who do have to report, it kind of made me freak out a little bit and get really angry,” Cox said.

Cox believes that the Safe Campus Act ignores the responsibility of universities to address the increasing issue of collegiate sexual assault.

“It all starts on a campus. Ultimately, there is something about campus culture and campus life,” Cox said. “I think to just completely remove it from the school would be almost removing the fact that it happened on the campus, and it would take away that aspect, which is a pretty big factor in it and needs to be addressed as well.”

According to the authors of the act, the required involvement of law enforcement is meant to protect due process of the accused. However, no such requirements exist for other illegal actions perpetrated within university campuses, such as non-sexual assault, harassment and theft, among others.

Supporters of the bill cite a perceived lack of due process in campus judicial proceedings and say that police involvement would streamline the investigation process, thereby ensuring a fair outcome.

Washington University Sigma Nu president, junior Adam Glassl, says that he recognizes both the advantages and disadvantages of the Safe Campus Act, but believes that the legislation would have little impact within the University community.

“My thought is that it probably wouldn’t have too much of an effect, because Wash. U. has such a very good set of resources for sexual assault victims,” Glassl said. “My personal take on the legislation is that it allows the police to get involved in an investigation while still allowing any resources to sexual assault victims, so there’s nothing that would keep a sexual assault victim from accessing all the different resources that Wash. U. has to offer.”

Initially, the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference supported the legislation through financial and vocal support for lobbyist groups. In response to opposition from individual Greek organizations, however, both organizations reversed their positions on the bill.

The Alpha Phi International Executive Board and Executive Office Staff issued the first statement against the Safe Campus Act, in which they firmly stated their belief that sexual assault survivors should have the freedom to report cases in the way they feel most comfortable.

“They should have their own voice and the support and encouragement they need to move forward, including reporting as they choose to,” the statement said.

It also emphasized the importance of the University taking responsibility for creating and maintaining a safe campus.

“We believe universities should remain accountable for the safety of their campuses and should continue to raise the bar to ensure that they report and respond to crimes and keep students safe. Their ability to do so should not be diminished,” the statement said.

Cox believes that the Safe Campus Act would have an impact within the WU community because it would discourage many parties, particularly those who from reporting cases of sexual assault.

“I think it very much does protect the person that’s committing the crime, because automatically there will be people that are too scared to report to law enforcement. There will be those who feel marginalized by law enforcement to begin with, because they are a woman, because they are a person of color, because there is something that the institution historically has said ‘We can’t help you’ or ‘We don’t want to help you,’” Cox said.

The bill is currently awaiting approval by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions before going to a full vote in the House of Representatives.

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