JMU’s Student Government Association passed a Bill of Opinion on Tuesday that calls on the university to improve Title IX proceedings, to include increasing transparency and providing more resources.
The Bill of Opinion was issued following SGA senator and senior public policy major Erin Coogan’s Title IX case that involved sexual harassment from a professor.
“Sadly, whether we know it or not, bad things are happening to people on campus all the time, and cases are happening on campus, and just because people aren't [public] about it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be advocating for it,” Coogan said before the vote.
The bill was presented toward the end of the SGA meeting. Ethan Gardner, SGA’s legislative affairs chair and senior public policy major, said that since he’s been a part of the organization, Title IX and sexual violence have been topics of “concern.”
“It seems like there's always new situations that come to light of students being mistreated by the Title IX system … I think it's incumbent on [SGA] when we hear about these situations that we use ... the networks and resources that we have to push for tangible changes to the systems of this bill,” Gardner said.
Gardner said that while the bill was lengthy, it outlined “tangible, concrete changes” that he believes “could and should” be made by the university to ensure situations like these don’t arise.
After it was read through in its entirety, Coogan and members of College Democrats, College Republicans and Students Against Sexual Violence who signed on to join the bill voiced their support for the proposed changes.
Alex Rodriguez, chairman of College Republicans, told SGA that he was surprised when he saw the bill because he didn’t know some of the issues addressed were happening on-campus.
“If you choose not to support this bill … you really don't have your priorities in check,” Rodriguez said. “When I was a part of this organization, I didn't agree with a lot of people on some things. But one thing that I know every single person in this room does hold true is that your support for the JMU community as a whole, and this bill does just that.”
After a roll call-style vote that yielded 56 ayes and one abstention, the bill was officially passed. Coogan said she’s “optimistic” the bill will get the votes it needs, and she said SGA will meet with members of Faculty Senate on Wednesday. She’s planning on meeting with the provost about the proposed changes.
Tim Miller, vice president for student affairs, said that he’ll continue to work with groups like SGA and SASV, even if the bill doesn’t end up receiving the signatures it needs.
An email sent out by University Communications to students, parents and faculty Feb. 20 gave a rundown of what JMU has done to “strengthen processes, policies, prevention strategies and resources offered related to sexual misconduct” ahead of proposed Title IX regulations that have yet to be issued by the federal government.
Resources listed in the email include conducting a climate study, introducing a new program for new students on appropriate relationships, launching a 24/7 phone counseling through the Counseling Center in Fall 2020, training another survivor advocate for The Well, increasing “Title IX compliance training” and annually tweaking “sexual misconduct policies and processes.”
Coogan said most items on the list, including adding another survivor advocate and increasing training on appropriate relationships, coincide with the Bill of Opinion.
While the email, which Miller said was pre-prepared ahead of the Title IX regulations, was sent out the same day The Breeze published Coogan’s story, Miller said its timing was due to the timeliness of his meeting with SGA the night before.
“It was more in the conversation with Erin and the students, their request for us to start putting things in writing that we're committing to,” Miller said. “So, I wanted to make sure that we said, 'Here are the things that we're working on,’ so they knew that in writing to count on it because I don't want students to feel like they have to ask for that.”
Now that it’s passed, the bill will need to obtain the rest of the 2,182 student signatures it needs in order to be brought back to the organization and receive a final vote from SGA's Senate, Gardner said.
“I'm just really excited to see this bill finally going through, and I just hope students will pay attention to this whole process and also … be more active in campus issues when they arise and feel kind of emboldened to push for positive change at the university,” Gardner said.
CORRECTION (Feb. 29, 1:16 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that if the bill obtained 2,182 votes, it would be seen by Faculty Senate. In actuality, the bill will return back to SGA to receive a final vote from its Senate if it receives the votes it needs.
Contact Abby Church at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.