Cohen: We must go beyond simply opposing the Safe Campus Act


Julia Cohen, Columnist

During Northwestern’s “It’s On Us” campaign last week, we were guided to consider our role in stopping sexual assault on our campus. This is a far bigger question than can be addressed in just a week, or a 500-word column. It requires serious thinking about the responsibilities of bystanders, an understanding of historically marginalized populations and what consent really means. Across my identities as white, cis female, a survivor, a sorority woman and so many others, I often struggle to understand what role I could play in preventing sexual assault. However, every once in a while, we are given a clear opportunity to take a stance on concrete actions. The Safe Campus Act is one of these opportunities, and I encourage you to join me in taking action against it.

The hideously and ironically named Safe Campus Act prohibits universities from investigating cases of rape and sexual assault unless they are also reported to the police. This makes it harder for people who may have been falsely accused of rape or sexual assault to face disciplinary action. It also makes it a lot harder for those who are actually guilty to face consequences, and greatly limits survivors’ choices after an incident. Simply put, it protects aggressors against survivors.

The umbrella groups of many sororities and fraternities had paid lobbyists to push the act forward to protect their own reputations. After the North American Interfraternity Council and National Panhellenic Council members pushed their respective Greek organizations to withdraw support, the two groups made official statements on Friday withdrawing their support for the bill. As a sorority woman, I could not be prouder of my Greek brothers and sisters for taking action against their national organizations for what they believe is right. Although this incident shined a horrible light on the national bureaucracies of sororities and fraternities, it showed the potential of our organizations to do good. It is so easy to get caught up in tier systems, parties and Gone Greek Night pairings that we often forget what our organizations are truly about. As fraternity men and sorority women, it is our duty to set examples for our campus and each other. We are told over and over again in our new member training that we “hold ourselves to a higher standard” but can forget what that really means. It means banding together to speak out for protecting our brothers, our sisters and our campuses.

This doesn’t mean that our handling of the Safe Campus Act was perfect. Unfortunately, much coverage of the act has focused only on Greek organizations. Although sexual assault is a problem in this community, we’ve forgotten marginalized populations, such as LGBT individuals and people of color, who, as survivors, rarely get the support, attention and justice that they deserve. Although the Safe Campus Act is detrimental to all college students, it is especially destructive for them. If passed, the bill would force these groups to report to law enforcement officials who have historically dehumanized them. Dealing with rape or sexual assault is incredibly difficult and confusing. Forcing survivors to come face-to-face with the institutions that have abused them for generations compounds these feelings by amounts that, as a white, cis woman, I cannot even begin to imagine. The Safe Campus Act continues a cycle of violence toward at-risk populations by giving them a terrible choice: stay silent and never be heard, or speak out and face dehumanizing treatment by authorities.

When faced with challenges such as the Safe Campus Act, we need to reframe our stories. Although mobilization by fraternities and sororities is a crucial step toward defeating it, we have forgotten millions of other college students. Individual fraternities and sororities are still technically for the act, so I encourage members to continue to write to their national organizations. However, I also encourage us to think about how our actions impact other groups on our campus and throughout the country. We can use fraternities and sororities as a tool to keep fighting, but if we make sexual assault on campus a Greek problem, we leave behind some of the individuals who it has hurt the most.

Whether you’re Greek or not, the Safe Campus Act is still in Congress. Write to your senator, representative or any other organization you are a part of and speak out against it while you still can. Because even though each of us can only do so much, it truly is on us to support survivors and stop sexual assault.

Julia Cohen is a SESP junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.