by Catherine Arjet
Last Monday, Feb. 6, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill you probably haven’t heard of, but will have major implications for college students across the state. H.B. 1039, or “The Sexual Assault Response for Students in Universities and Community and Junior Colleges Act”, sets out regulations that will govern the way colleges and universities handle sexual assault on campus.
Although this bill has passed the House, it’s waiting for the Senate to vote on it. Starting August 1, 2018, H.B. 1039 — which is sponsored by Reps. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, and Kathy Sykes, D-Jackson— would set a new minimum of standards by which all colleges and universities in Mississippi would have to abide. These new standards would include a maximum response time of 12 hours for all reports of sexual, domestic and dating violence and stalking. They would also require information about sexual assault and how to reported on the institution’s website and that all those who could potentially be involved in the resolution of sexual assault allegation receive at least 8 hours of training that is “survivor center and trauma-informed.” It also would mandate programming for all students that provides them with information on how to report, what constitutes consent, and bystander intervention techniques as well as a myriad of other measures aimed at both preventing sexual assault and caring for victims.
Millsaps already follows many of these guidelines, so not a lot would change for the campus. However, the bill would make these measures law — not college policy — which makes them impossible to remove and hard to lessen. This kind of security means that we can ask for, or demand, more from the administration. How can we uphold our motto of “ad excellentiam” if we are only doing the legal minimum? In other words, H.B. 1039 would raise the bar and if Millsaps want to hold itself out as a superior institution, we will have to raise our level of response to sexual assault.
It also would require that we add new mandated information to the website and change some of our trainings as well as a few other seemingly small changes that may actually do a lot of good. We need better sexual assault prevention on campus as well as the assurance that those protections which we do have will not go away and the passage of H.B. 1039 would set into law some of Millsaps’s practices, legally require the change of some others, and give us a way to demand the rest.
Of course, the new mandates would help college students at all Mississippi colleges and universities, not just Millsaps. Although this personally would not affect us, our high school classmates, family or friends who attend other Mississippi schools would be affected.
If H.B 1039 passes the Senate, every single community college, university, or even for-profit vocational school in Mississippi would have to at least meet these guidelines. This could mean wonderful things for future victims of sexual assault across the state, or (hopefully) the passage of this bill would stop some sexual assaults from happening in the first place.
Mississippi needs this bill, Millsaps needs this bill, and we as students need this bill. So call your state senators (if you live in Mississippi and are a constituent). If you used your campus address to register to vote your senator is David Blount and his number is 601-359-3232, if you’re registered (or from) and other part of Mississippi you can look up your senator here using your address. So go, make change happen. Help make a better Mississippi for all future college students.