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Leaders of the Consent Collaborative (from left to right): Nico Carrino, Caitlin Doolittle, Kellie Ramdeen, Sophia Griffith-Gorgati, and Salomon Villatoro.

Credit: Giovanna Paz

Consent Collaborative, the umbrella group for all four sexual violence awareness organizations, is the first anti-violence group to be given a seat on the University Council, which is composed of students who regularly meet with administrators. The move comes after the Trump administration's proposed changes to Title IX have come under fire for reducing universities' responsibilities in investigating sexual misconduct.

College senior Bella Essex will represent Consent Collaborative on the council beginning fall 2019. The University Council is a body of student leaders and administrators that meets monthly and is made up of 16 undergraduate representatives. The Nominations and Elections Committee decided on Feb. 17 to offer Consent Collaborative a seat after the group formed in spring 2018. 

Essex, a member of all four Consent Collaborative constituent groups — Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention, the V-Day Campaign, Penn Anti-Violence Educators, and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault— plans to push for discussions surrounding changes to sexual violence policies at Penn.

The United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed changes to Title IX, which were released in November 2018, include requiring full hearings, live cross-examination between the accuser and accused, and higher standards of evidence.

Essex said the proposals were “laughably un-survivor centered” and an “extraordinary oversight” of survivors’ voices and wellbeing.

“Whenever these policies are made, it doesn’t seem like any of the powers have spoken to a survivor, which I think is something that is hugely missing from the conversation,” Essex said.

Since several constituents of the Consent Collaborative are survivors of sexual violence, having a seat on the council will facilitate conversations between survivors and administrators, Essex said.

Undergraduate Assembly President and College senior Michael Krone, who observed the nominations and elections, said Consent Collaborative’s voice on the University Council was timely in “today’s national and political climate.”

“As we are in the midst of the Association of American University Survey on Campus Climate and Sexual Misconduct and Title IX rollbacks, the NEC saw that it was really important to give a voice to those advocating for survivors of sexual misconduct as well as those who are working to advocate for policy for survivors for prevention of interpersonal violence on campus,” Krone said. 

Essex said “right from the beginning” in spring 2018, Consent Collaborative eyed a position on the University Council. 

College sophomore and NEC co-Vice Chair Frances Paulino said Essex was “stellar in the interview” and clearly differentiated Consent Collaborative’s purpose on the council from that of Penn Association for Gender Equity, which was an initial concern of the NEC. PAGE has consistently occupied a seat on the council and is also the umbrella group for one of Consent Collaborative’s groups, ASAP.

Essex said while there are overlaps between PAGE's mission on gender equity and Consent Collaborative's on sexual violence awareness, PAGE aims to cover more aspects of gender equity than just sexual misconduct.

"For there to be representation for the work of anti-violence to represent survivors is important for everyone and it is an exciting moment to be able to coordinate with the University on level which we haven’t gotten to do yet," MARS President and College senior James Hiebert said.