A pair of VCU students and their adviser met with Vice President Joe Biden last month to discuss ideas for strengthening sexual assault policies on college campuses across the country.
Students Calvin Hall and Kaylin Tingle and Tammi Slovinsky, assistant director of sexual assault and intimate partner violence and stalking advocacy services at The Wellness Resource Center, traveled to Washington, D.C. to offer input to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
“As anyone who participates in activist causes knows, it sometimes gets discouraging to work so hard and feel as though no change is occurring. It was refreshing to feel as though my voice was heard,” said Tingle, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work with a certificate in gender violence intervention. “The vice president listened intently and took notes along with numerous other staff and advisers in the room. Only time will tell what the outcome of this meeting will be, but at least I know that I took advantage of an opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas with people who can impact change.”
The meeting was the first of nine “listening sessions” and included participation by student advocates, sexual assault survivors and educators from across the country.
“We need more top-down support from the government because it doesn’t seem like government is doing as much as they should be doing,” said Hall, who is majoring in philosophy and psychology with a pre-medicine track and is president of VCU’s Sexual Assault and Violence Education by Students (SAVES) group. “This is an opportunity to bring government and grass roots organizations together to address violence.”
The students’ opportunity to participate in the meeting came at the recommendation of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance’s “Red Flag Campaign,” which raises awareness about dating violence and sexual assault.
Slovinsky said the issue of sexual assault has been talked about a great deal in recent years, and she is hopeful the current discussion will bring action.
“This feels different,” Slovinsky said. “For the first time, prevention efforts are focused not on the victim but on the community at large.”
In announcing the task force in January, President Obama said his administration is committed to strengthening the criminal justice system, reaching out to survivors and changing social norms.
But Tingle wanted to make sure that any changes help people from marginalized groups.
“It was also eye-opening to be the only person that brought up the issue as it relates to the LGBTQ community,” Tingle said. “This reminds me of how important it is to use my voice when given the opportunities so that one day we don't even need to have these conversations because we will be in a world free of violence.
The task force is expected to issue official recommendations in April.
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