The House of Representatives proposed the Safe Campus Act of 2015 July 29 to monitor how colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual violence. The College of William and Mary’s Panhellenic Executive Board wrote a letter to the National Panhellenic Conference asking the governing body to reconsider its support of the legislation Nov. 9. This past Friday, the NPC withdrew their support of the Safe Campus Act.
The Safe Campus Act, proposed by House member Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), assures that students who have been sexually assaulted would have the choice of pressing for a criminal investigation. If they chose not to pursue a criminal investigation, campus officials would be unable to launch their own investigation into the allegations. Campus officials would also not be allowed to establish no-contact orders or class and dorm changes for the accused without a criminal investigation.
Alexandra Phillips, vice president of programming on the College’s Panhellenic Executive Board and a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, met with her fellow executive members a couple weeks ago to discuss the implications of the national organization’s support. Together, they decided to write a letter voicing their concern. Phillips wrote the initial draft of the letter, which was published Nov. 9.
“We, as the elected leaders of the Panhellenic community, believe that it is also a privilege to have a place on our campus and that the institution has the right to investigate and hold accountable organizations that violate our Honor and Conduct Codes,” the published letter stated.
Phillips said she was particularly upset with NPC’s support because she and her fellow executive officers, as well as student representatives from the Interfraternity Council, had just been working on a task force combatting sexual violence when they found out the national body was supporting the Safe Campus Act. The NPC represents not only undergraduate sorority students, but also alumnae.
In the midst of addressing these issues on sexual violence with the task force, the executive board wanted to alert the NPC that they believed their support was misplaced.
“We thought it was morally wrong to support the legislation,” Phillips said. “We felt that this legislation would have undermined the College’s ability to protect its students. We thought it was important to make it clear we did not agree.”
Although Phillips was responsible for the first draft of the letter, the published message was the result of discussion and collaboration. The students on the Panhellenic Executive Board met again to revise the letter together. They also sought advice from Vice President of Resource Development for the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors Jennifer Leung and Director of Student Leadership Anne Arseneau ’89 M.Ed. ’92, both of whom supported the students in their decision to write the letter.
Leung said this legislation could have a negative impact on members of the College community. The idea to write the letter came from the students, and she gave them feedback on their drafts.
“There is always more room for members of our community to step up and speak up when they see something they know and feel is wrong, especially when it comes to this issue,” Leung said in an email.
Arseneau was also eager to provide feedback for the executive board members. Early Friday evening, Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06 notified Arseneau that the NPC had withdrawn its support of the Safe Campus Act. Arseneau stated that this reversal was the result of many letters of disagreement from Panhellenic groups, individuals and associations of higher education.
“It was gratifying to hear a response to voices that have been raised,” Arseneau said. “Enough people were doing that that it gave [the NPC] pause.”
Phillips stated she and her fellow board members were proud their letter had an effect. She also stated that the Panhellenic council at the College will stay aware of such issues and remain committed to their cause. The executive board will have a new fleet of members this upcoming semester.
“I hope the next group of women will pick up the mantle and carry it on,” Phillips said.