At Summit On Campus Sexual Violence, Ayanna Pressley Vows To Push For 'Survivor Justice Agenda'

Students walk in and out of the Widener Library in Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Students walk in and out of the Widener Library in Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With 114 colleges in Massachusetts, the issue of sexual violence and assault on campuses is on the minds of many students.

That's why Northeastern University senior Jace Ritchey attended a summit at Harvard University on Saturday, where about 100 activists, politicians and survivors of sexual violence gathered to discuss how to tackle the issue.

Ritchey said the first step to staving off sexual violence on college campuses is to require schools provide an anonymous sexual misconduct climate survey to see what that institution's specific needs are.

"If we don't know what's happening and we don't know how students feel and what students are aware of in terms of what resources they have in the first place, we won't really be able to move forward with the right staff members that can really respond in a cohesive manner to a situation like sexual violence on campus," Ritchey said.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a survivor of sexual assault herself, delivered opening remarks at the event, vowing to push for a "survivor justice agenda," while representing the Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District in D.C.

The agenda she spoke of includes guarding and fortifying "protections for survivors, relative to access to trauma and behavioral health services, to reporting guidelines to investigations," she said. "It means justice."

For Ivy Lee -- co-founder of the advocacy group The Every Voice Coalition, which organized the summit with the Harvard Law School Harassment Assault Law-Student Team — advocacy on the behalf of survivors is particularly important.

"I'm a survivor of sexual assault," she said. "It directly impacted me, but it also impacts the people who love me — all the people I know now and will know in the future will be impacted by this."

The Every Voice Coalition's goal is to end sexual violence on college campuses in Massachusetts. It previously pushed for a bill in the state Legislature that would require all institutions of higher learning to provide an anonymous climate survey. It never passed, though.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who attended the summit, said the bill's failure to pass was a matter of legislative mismatching and lack of time. Last year, both the state House and Senate drafted their own versions of the climate survey bill, but the legislative session ended before the two chambers could reconcile the proposed laws.

This year, though, DeLeo said, it'll be different.

"I'm [at the summit] early in the [legislative] session to make sure that everyone knows that this is a priority," he said. "We can take a look at it much earlier in the session, try to work with our colleagues in the Senate and get in on the governor's desk. That's the way I want to see it get done this year."

DeLeo said it's his hope to get that legislation passed this year.


Quincy Walters Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters is a producer for WBUR Podcasts.



More from WBUR

Listen Live