A new petition advocating for a bill that would implement the use of anonymous sexual assault climate surveys at all Massachusetts colleges and universities was launched Tuesday by Every Voice, a student-led coalition working to eliminate sexual violence on college campuses.
The coalition worked with Care2, a petition-sharing platform, to develop the petition a month prior to its launch.
Every Voice launched this petition to demonstrate student support for the bill introduced in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the surveys it would implement, said John Gabrieli, co-founder of Every Voice. The coalition launched its first petition, which has over 3,500 signatures, during the most recent legislative session.
Every Voice’s partnership with Care2 for the most recent petition allowed it to pick up greater traction than their previous petition, according to Ivy Lee, a member of Every Voice. In less than a week, the new petition has received over 49,000 signatures.
Kevin Leung, a junior at the Berklee College of Music, wrote in a Facebook message that he thinks sexual assault is an underreported problem.
“I feel like sexual assault is a huge issue on any school campus because it violates an [individual’s] mental and physical [well-being],” Leung wrote. “I feel like it is not only a problem in students, but teachers as well. Schools should not hide these incidents and instead should be public about it.”
Gabrieli said anonymous campus climate surveys are necessary to effectively address sexual assault at colleges due to the lack of available data about the issue.
“The more we looked at what Massachusetts could do to combat sexual assault, the more that it became clear that it is not known … what actually works and is effective [in terms] of measures that can be taken,” Gabrieli said. “There is little known to combat sexual violence because there isn’t any data. It is one of the most underreported crimes in America.”
The anonymity factor of the campus climate surveys is meant to encourage more people to participate in them, Lee said.
“I think a lot of people might be wary to fill out a survey if it wasn’t anonymous because of a lot of the surveyors are survivors,” Lee said. “In some cases, they want to share the information because they know it will help, but they don’t want the repercussions of [others] knowing that it is them.”
Kaylin Wu, a sophomore at Simmons College, wrote in a Facebook message that she too thinks an anonymous survey will yield a greater number of candid opinions.
“I think it’s a good way to get opinions from students while keeping things anonymous,” Wu wrote. “It’s hard for a lot of people to talk about assault so I think having a way to talk about it anonymously is helpful.”
Amy Nguyen, a senior at Emmanuel College, wrote in a Facebook message that these surveys will offer insightful student perspective to university officials.
“Campus climate surveys would be a great way to gauge the social climate of the school and give administration a baseline on what needs to be improved,” Nguyen wrote. “I think that it will help students feel like their voices are heard.”
Katia Santiago-Taylor, the advocacy and affairs manager at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, said she supports the anonymous campus climate survey because it can bring consistent support to sexual violence survivors.
“We support it in creating a task force to develop the survey, support the efforts to get some consistency of higher ed[ucation] [and] to ask the right questions involving key players,” Santiago-Taylor said.
The anonymous campus climate survey legislation is a step in the right direction, Santiago-Taylor said, but it is time for stakeholders to take responsibility for the issue of sexual violence.
“Activists have done an amazing work to advocate for survivors and for important policy changes at their schools,” Santiago-Taylor said. “I think now is the time for service providers, legislators and stakeholders to say … ‘These groups of students have been doing this work. Now we are going to give them quality work. We are going to provide them with the tools and provide them with guidance.’”
Every Voice is now working to push the legislation to the House Committee on Ways and Means.