SUNY throws support behind proposed campus sexual assault bill

Aug 14, 2014

The State University of New York system is the first to support a proposed bill that would strengthen rules to protect students from sexual assault.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was in Manhattan Wednesday to announce SUNY's support for the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Gillibrand has been a lead backer of the bill, which would ensure minimum training standards for campus employees and would require colleges and universities to perform annual surveys to keep records of sexual assault cases.

Virginia Levine is a Title IX co-coordinator at SUNY Cortland. Title IX is a federal anti-discrimination law that bans any type of sex discrimination in schools and colleges.

Levine says the SUNY system is already working to meet the guidelines set forth be the proposed legislation.

"You can be a single campus or an entire system, but you have to believe we need to end sexual assault on campus, and how do we protect our students," Levine said. "And I think that SUNY is strongly behind this and very supportive of it. We are already embracing the major high points of the bill."

Other pieces of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act include establishing more campus resources for sexual assault survivors and stronger penalties for colleges that violate the Clery Act, which requires colleges to report crimes that occur on or near its campus.

She says the proposed legislation dovetails with the SUNY system's work to align itself with national mandates and requirements.

"We are already complying," Levine explained. "Every campus has Title IX coordinators or co-coordinators. We enforce campus disciplinary proceedings in a very consistent way and we really are very victim-centered in our approach to what we're doing."

In 2012, colleges reported about 5,000 sexual assaults. New York reported 365 cases.

Levine adds that although the SUNY system, which has nearly a half-million students attending 64 campuses statewide, was the first to back the legislation, it probably won't be the last.

"I think that the fact that an entire system, led by Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, is really leading the pack in this, I think others will follow suit very shortly," Levine said. "The common denominator is we want sexual violence on campus to end. We want to be able to curtail it. I think every single campus and every single system is very much in favor of that."