Undergraduate Senate passes sexual assault survivors’ bill of rights
Students urging University to adopt it into official policy
The American University Undergraduate Senate unanimously passed on March 26 a resolution encouraging AU to adopt a survivors’ bill of rights as University policy.
The action by American University Student Government is the first step in a list of five demands signed by more than 1,400 community members in the days before hundreds of students walked out of classes on Nov. 14 to protest the University’s response to an incident of sexual assault in Leonard Hall on Oct. 31.
The survivors’ bill of rights was modeled on a similar version at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, according to Julia Comino, a junior in the School of Communication and School of Public Affairs and the chair of the Senate’s Committee on Combating Sexual Violence and Harassment, and Lillian Frame, a senior in SPA and survivor advocate who was one of the organizers of the November walkout.
Frame cast a vote in support of the resolution at the Sunday meeting, as a proxy vote on behalf of another senator who was sick and unable to attend.
“It was really, really special to kind of be able to say yes to it and cast one of those votes,” Frame said.
Comino said the survivors’ bill of rights would be published on the SG website, and the resolution urges AU to do the same, similar to the Amherst website.
Resolutions can only express the Senate’s “official sentiment or statement,” according to the SG bylaws, and cannot amend University policies — they can only “implore” administrators to implement a resolution as official policy, Comino told The Eagle.
AU administrators “need to adopt it, as soon as humanly possible,” Frame told The Eagle. “We’ve been asking for it since November.”
The resolution’s authors emailed administrators asking for its implementation, according to Senate Speaker Aly McCormick, a sophomore in SPA.
“We’re getting the ball rolling,” McCormick told The Eagle.
“We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for [the University],” Frame said. “And now they’ve had a situation where the students have done every single bit of the work for them — writing [the survivors’ bill of rights] and researching it — and … it has such widespread support.”
Frame said administrators “lit a fire under our asses. They’ve made our lives significantly more difficult … They’ve continued to retraumatize survivors … They’ve put all of their energy into stifling student voices instead of actually helping survivors and giving them what they want.”
The students’ demands also asked for mandatory live sexual violence prevention and response training for all AU students and employees annually, which Frame said students asked for in 2011 and again in 2016, when the U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into the University after a student said AU mishandled her sexual assault case.
A recent investigation by The Eagle found that the Office of Equity and Title IX mishandled multiple cases and violated Title IX law, but the Education Department has not opened an investigation into the University since 2021.
The department will not open a case unless a formal complaint against the University is filed, according to the DOE Office for Civil Rights’ website. AU currently has three open Office for Civil Rights investigations.
Frame said the next step for survivors’ advocates is getting AU to implement the rest of their list of demands, which also includes regularly updating the University’s Title IX website and hiring “at least one trauma informed counselor that is trained in sexual violence response and PTSD treatment related to sexual violence.”
Comino said the survivors’ bill of rights is a win for holding administrators accountable on Title IX issues.
“You can't hold someone accountable if you don't know what rights they could be violating,” Comino said. “You're not able to hold someone accountable if you don't know what resources you are supposed to have access to … I think the survivor bill of rights is a step [forward].”
This article was edited by Mackenzie Konjoyan, Jordan Young and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis.