SUNY recently passed a bill requiring all club officials to attend a sexual harassment seminar or their funding will be cut for the following academic year.
“They want all of the public colleges in New York state to be sure that their student leaders, if not the entire student body, but certainly the student leaders and the student athletes, have this formal training,” said Louis Coplin, director of student life. “[SUNY wants its students] to be aware, knowledgeable and know what to do if they are a victim of, witness to, or, God forbid, guilty of [sexual assault] and what the college has in place to protect the students.”
160 students should have completed the seminar by April 30, 2017. Coplin said that if only a few people miss the seminar by that date, no budgets will be withheld.
“We are going to be as accommodating as possible. We have it now at 3 p.m. on Mondays because we know that there are no classes scheduled, and we know that most clubs meet at 2 p.m.,” said Coplin.
Title Nine, also called VAWA or the Violence Against Women Act, went into effect last academic year after Governor Cuomo recommended it. According to the Department of Education’s website, Title Nine applies to institutions that receive federal financial assistance, including state and local educational agencies.
“Domestic violence, violence against women and Title Nine aren’t new problems, but [when you’re] watching the news on a given evening, you’re starting to see more and more,” said Coplin.
According to Manik Elahi, Student Secretary, the college thought it would be a good idea to enforce the SUNY policy across the board.
“SUNY actually thought [the policy] was in accordance with our values, one of which is being strong advocates against sexual assault,” Elahi said. “Given how engaged our student leaders are, it would be a nice add on to the plethora of things they have command over and give them an idea to the extent of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses.”
Student Senate Vice President Steven Pelletier said, “Essentially, the seminar is put on by Public Safety here on campus, and they make sure that we all know about domestic disturbance and how to spot a situation, how to really take care of yourself and how to avoid sexual harassment and other types of situations here on campus.”
Students had differing opinions on the new requirement for club leaders.
Joe Paulson, a fine arts student and a member of the Student Art League, said, “I feel like it is a pretty good idea. I was actually in the army for four years, and we did all the sexual harassment training, so I think it is a good thing for everyone to be aware of. I think it’s a good start to have a certain percentage of the people learn about it, especially if they are in charge of other groups and clubs.”
“All teachers have to do that,” Tatum Cavender, a psychology major, said. “It sounds like it could be tedious, but somewhat necessary. I don’t know of a lot of sexual harassment stuff that happens in clubs, and it doesn’t sound like a bad thing, just expensive.”
Some students disagree with the policy itself, while others don’t see why the college has threatened to cut club funding if the seminar is not completed.
“I wouldn’t see it as a negative thing, but I don’t see why they would cut the funding for the [club]; that doesn’t make any sense to me personally,” said Danny Morgan, criminal justice major. “I mean, unless there is a problem, then I could totally see why it is mandatory, but if there hasn’t been a problem with the club, then it doesn’t seem fair to cut funding if they don’t go to a class.”
“It’s a big issue, people talk about it a lot. But I don’t really think that it should be mandatory like on a campus like this where that kind of stuff does not happen a lot. It’s kind of unfair to make people do that, but that’s just my opinion,” said Camren Jeffers, liberal arts major.
According to Coplin, members from eight clubs have completed the seminar so far, including the Student Senate editorial board.
Coplin said, “We know the problem is never going to go away, but it is an opportunity at institutes of higher learning to educate people are being on rules and regulations. So that being said, there is no excuse for not knowing.”