BY ALLYSON HUNTOON ’19
“To the students across Massachusetts whom the system has failed, we stand with you, not just in solidarity, but in action,” said Liz Brown ’20. Megaphone in hand, she addressed a crowd of students, legislators and activists who gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
Hundreds of people, including over a dozen Mount Holyoke students, gathered on Tuesday to rally in support of two bills in the Massachusetts legislature, H.4159 and S.2203, which are both pending in the House Ways and Means Committee.
One of the bills, H.4159, which was formerly H.2998 but has been revised and renamed, would require an anonymous statewide survey to measure instances of sexual assault on campuses. The other, S.2203, would make broad changes to help students understand their rights, support a fair process of investigation and inform improved institutional policies around the issue.
Thirty students from the Five College Consortium traveled to the rally together, meeting with legislators and staff throughout the day. Brown, who serves as chair of the Women’s Caucus of College Democrats of Massachusetts, organized the trip, ensuring that a strong delegation from Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College and University of Massachusetts, Amherst, were present.
Students and alumni from around the state spoke at the rally, including Ivy Lee, a Northeastern University graduate and co-founder of the Every Voice Coalition. Lee said, “I believe that this bill can make a difference and it’s inspiring to see the amount of people here that want to see that difference.” A survivor of sexual assault, Lee added, “We are all here today because on some level, this issue is personal.”
When Brown took her turn to speak, she emphasized the scope of the legislation’s potential. “These are not just numbers, these are young people,” she said. “We are those young people.” Brown is a sophomore now, but she said that she often thinks of her younger sister. “While I will soon be out of college, my sister is a senior in high school who plans to study in Massachusetts,” she said. “I want a better future for her.”
The state representative who introduced the House bill, Rep. Lori Ehrlich, called legislators in the crowd to stand with her on the steps of the Statehouse.
“These are your friends, everyone. They are your champions and the people you should get to know,” she said. “I won’t let up, and you know you won’t either unless we pass these bills.”
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier spoke about the Senate bill, which she personally filed. “Title IX, for me, when I was in school, was about playing soccer instead of field hockey. But Title IX is about so much more than that. It’s about equal access to education,” she said. “If you are not safe on your college campus, then you do not have access to equal educational opportunity.” She added that students should be able to understand the climate of a school before they choose to attend. “You all can figure out which schools have the best English professors. You can find out which school has the best dining hall. Shouldn’t you be able to know which school will be the safest?”
Speakers roused the crowd, which was filled with activists waving signs with statements such as “No more silence on sexual violence,” “No one asked for it” and “We have a way, you have the means.” A stack of white cardboard file boxes symbolizing the 75,000 signatures on a petition in favor of the legislation sat on the Statehouse steps.
Mount Holyoke students who attended the rally felt passionately that the legislature should support students. Romina Gupta ’20 said, “I am here today to fight for rights which we should already have. This is such an important issue, because I know too many survivors and they have yet to receive justice.”
Maggie Micklo ’21 also attended the rally. She said, “I know how important it is not only to speak up against injustices, but also [to] show up to create real change.” The opportunity to lobby for a specific bill that can make a difference on college campuses across the state attracted her to the event. “The student activism that got the bill this far has been inspiring to me, and I’m so glad I could be a part of this day of action,” she said. “The fight isn’t over, and it is important we keep pushing the representatives in Ways and Means to pass the bill with the proposed amendment.”
The decisions made in the Massachusetts legislature will determine whether or not the proposed statewide climate survey and policy changes are implemented. Gupta added, “This is the first step in moving towards a safer, more transparent campus.”
Additional reporting by Caitlin Lynch ’20 and Kate Turner ’21