The national conversation on campus sexual violence requires student affairs administrators to engage the topic on a number of different levels – education, training and, in particular, careful analysis of legal, legislative and regulatory developments that impact institutions of higher education. With good reason, campuses, professional associations and individuals spend considerable time analyzing recently passed legislation and regulatory guidance that comes out of the Department of Education and Department of Justice. Federal interest in campus sexual violence has not waned in spite of redoubled campus efforts. The proposed Campus Accountability & Safety Act, now in its second iteration, and the starkly different Safe Campus Act show not only the political differences on this topic, but show differences in opinion and priorities of varied higher education partners and constituencies. All of this is happening within the larger discussion of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, itself a monumental legislative task. Needless to say, there’s quite a bit happening in Washington relating to higher education and student affairs.
Within this environment, happenings at the state level can be overlooked. However, states across the country have taken up the issue of campus sexual violence, from many different practical and ideological perspectives, in ways that have a large impact on our work and our students. Over the past year or two, state legislation has taken aim at institutional conduct processes, required education and training for campus communities, student due process rights, mandated policies, and new statistical reporting requirements. Legislatures in North Carolina, North Dakota and Arkansas have passed laws that permit active attorney representation in student disciplinary meetings, while repeated attempts to do so in Massachusetts and Virginia have thus far failed. Affirmative consent policies are now mandatory in California and New York, with over a dozen other states having considered similar moves in the past year. Connecticut and California statutorily require that institutions use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in campus sexual violence cases. Connecticut, New York, Illinois and California have all passed legislation that includes new state-mandated training, educational programs, policy development and statistical reporting.
How do members cope with this rapid change and uncertainty? Legislation at the state level often moves forward at a much quicker pace than its federal counterpart. In order to ensure student affairs professionals have their voices heard, it is incumbent on us, through our state and regional leadership, to speak out. NASPA colleagues in Massachusetts have, for two consecutive years and in concert with regional colleagues from the Association for Student Conduct Administration, successfully testified before legislative committees and met with decision-makers at the state level on attorney representation legislation that had many troublesome elements. This success stemmed from thoughtful preparation, utilizing state-based and institutional contacts, and developing clear talking points that effectively outline problematic elements of the proposed legislation.
It is very important for members to be watchful for state legislative proposals that impact student affairs. When faced with state legislative proposals, it is important to analyze the bill and ask the following questions:
Meanwhile, also pay attention to proposed federal legislation! Federal proposals, even ones that are unlikely to pass, often provide ideas for state legislators to propose similar state-based proposals. The recently-enacted campus sexual violence in Connecticut borrowed heavily from the first version of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which has not yet made it out of committee in Congress.
Answering these questions can serve as an important starting point for a state or regional outreach initiative. Aside from making important contributions to developing public policy initiatives, members come out of the process with an important resource – relationships. Those relationships will make outreach efforts easier the next time around.