Kit Steinkellner
June 09, 2015 9:18 am

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made it a priority to fight campus sexual assault in the state he serves. This February he introduced legislation on a bill, supported by the “Enough is Enough” campaign, that would ensure that the comprehensive sexual assault policy that New York’s state public universities recently adopted would apply to all New York campuses, including private colleges and universities. The legislation proposes, “statewide definition of affirmative consent,” a “statewide amnesty policy” and a “sexual violence victim and survivor bill of rights.” Basically, Governor Cuomo is asking the state to step up when it comes to college sexual assault. Currently, the law protects those in 64 of the state’s public universities, but without acceptance of further legislation those in private universities don’t have equal protection.

In the ongoing national conversation about campus sexual violence, New York frequently comes up, in no small part because of recent Columbia graduate Emma Sulkowicz, a rape survivor who has become one of the most recognizable names in this national discussion as a result of her art piece “Mattress Performance (Carry the Weight).” Cuomo’s bill seeks to grant students at universities like Columbia the same kind of protection that students at SUNY currently receive.

Now, there’s only one week left for New York lawmakers to make these changes happen before the end of this year’s legislation session, and Governor Cuomo has teamed up with pop star Lady Gaga, (who was born and raised in New York, is a once-NYU student, and a survivor of sexual assault,) to pen a letter for Billboard in support of making all New York campuses safer and more supportive environments  for students.

Together, the two lay out the need for strong legislation for all New York campuses:

“We all have a responsibility to make sure that the strongest possible laws are in place to safeguard our students. Thankfully, New York has an opportunity to stand up for its students and take the critical steps toward facing this crisis head on. The bill currently before the New York State legislature will address the issue of sexual violence on college campuses, giving the state the nation’s strongest laws to target campus sexual assault. This is a campaign that will protect students, and it’s exactly what we need,” they write.

The call-to-action also outlines the many ways in which these schools are currently failing their students.

“Today, too many college students experience sexual assault, too few of the assailants are prosecuted, and too often the survivors lack the resources they need to recover,” Gaga and Cuomo explain.

“Making a bad situation worse, college officials sometimes fear negative publicity against their school if assaults are reported to the police,” they say. “Instead of involving law enforcement, these cases are often handled as campus disciplinary issues and many offenders avoid meaningful consequences.”

Cuomo and Gaga deem this situation “unacceptable,” and state that “we have a responsibility to the young men and women of this country to stand up against sexual violence everywhere.” We stand behind these statements one thousand percent.

The full letter packs a powerful punch and is well worth the read. Our fingers are tightly crossed that this legislation passes and that New York is able to set a safety precedent for campuses around the country.

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