By Walbert Castillo at USA Today
The National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) withdrew its support Friday from the Safe Campus Act after a growing number of national sororities broke rank by distancing themselves from two controversial campus sexual assault bills: the Safe Campus and Fair Campus acts.
“Our member organizations and NPC leadership have listened to the groundswell of concern among our members and are refocusing our legislative agenda. To that end, NPC is withdrawing its support of the Safe Campus Act,” NPC said in an official statement.
Both the NPC and the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) — national umbrella organizations for sororities and fraternities, respectively — originally backed the pending bills, which aim to improve due process in campus sexual assault proceedings by involving the local police force. The groups have played major roles in advocating the Safe Campus Act, spending at least $200,000 for lobbying purposes since July, according to Gawker. The NIC joined the NPC inwithdrawing its support Friday from the Safe Campus Act after “listening to our member fraternities and partners.”
Reps. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Kay Granger (R-Texas) introduced the Safe Campus Act, also known as H.R. Bill 3403, to a congressional committee on July 29. It states:
“If an individual provides a notification to the institution under this paragraph with respect to an allegation, the institution may not imitate or otherwise carry out any institutional disciplinary proceeding with respect to the allegation.”
If the Safe Campus Act passes, colleges could not investigate an alleged sexual assault until the alleged victim files a complaint with police. What’s more, universities would lack power to take action against the accused until a conviction is made by law enforcement.
Instead, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), colleges can “secure counseling for alleged victims, provide academic and housing accommodations, secure necessary medical attention, and provide general guidance for students who navigate the criminal justice system.”
Alpha Phi, the first sorority to break ranks from NPC and withdraw its support from the bills, found this problematic.
Along with clarifying that it had neither endorsed nor committed financial support to either bill, the sorority’s national office released a statement Thursday “at the request of (its) many members and chapters” that read:
“We believe our sisters who are survivors should have choices in how, when and to whom they go to for support or to report their crime. They should have their own voice and the support and encouragement they need to move forward including reporting as they choose to.”
“Sexual assault has become more prevalent on college campuses and that is extremely concerned given the fact that students pay to go to school to further their education and career opportunities,” Zenya Yap, an Alpha Phi alumna from Elmhurst College told USA TODAY College. “Students should feel safe in a place they call their ‘second home.’ Change starts by taking a stand.”
“I’m incredibly proud to be part of an organization that looks out for the safety and well-being of not only sisters but also the campus-wide community,” Diana Perez, a member of Alpha Phi at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign told USA TODAY College.
Phi Mu, Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Chi Omega, Delta Phi Epsilon, Gamma Phi Beta, Sigma Delta Tau and Delta Gamma followed Alpha Phi’s lead by releasing similar statements Friday.
Phi Mu’s national office said in a statement obtained by The Huffington Post it appreciates the intent of the legislation but “does not endorse the Safe Campus Act nor the Fair Campus Act.”
In its message, which was shared on Twitter by a member, Alpha Gamma Delta said “our strength in numbers is powerful when we, as women, speak with a unified voice in addressing issues and concerns facing each of our (Panhellenic) groups.”
National leaders of Alpha Chi Omega, whose national philanthropy is domestic violence awareness, said it “has not and will not endorse the Safe Campus Act nor the Fair Campus Act without substantive, victim-centered changes.” Its statement also read:
“Alpha Chi Omega is looking for legislation that is victim-centered and has the support of the higher education community and victims’ advocacy groups. As a leader in NPC and in the area of domestic violence awareness, we take our role very seriously and believe collaboration is the best way to advance victim-centered legislation.”
Lizzie Tran, an Alpha Chi Omega member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told USA TODAY College she is glad her sorority chose not to endorse the bills. The legislation, she says, fails to cater to the needs, security and comfort of students who fall victim to domestic violence and sexual assault.
Delta Phi Epsilon is the only sorority of the eight to position itself in staunch opposition to the bills, according to The Huffington Post. The others merely clarified they do not support the acts.
“The bills eliminate the process by which sexual assault survivors on college campuses may seek relief, support, advocacy, and help from their campuses,” Delta Phi Epsilon’s national office wrote in its letter to the NPC, as reported by The Huffington Post.
Alpha Phi’s executive director, Linda Kahangi, took a different route. She told The Huffington Post the sorority does not “oppose” the bill, but instead wanted to give individual chapters “their own voice.”
Both the NPC and the NIC said Friday they will continue supporting the Fair Campus Act, according to Inside Higher Ed. The act, if passed, gives colleges more power to investigate sexual assault reports involving students. While similar in ways to the Safe Campus Act, it does not bar colleges from carrying out “disciplinary hearings” relating to sexual assault allegations, FIRE reports.
Schools: University of Illinois at Chicago