Since June, a group of American University students and administrators have been working to bring $300,000 in Department of Justice grant money to the school to prevent sexual assaults on campus. Seventeen campus offices, three community organizations, and the undergraduate student senate approved the proposal. But just last week—days before the grant application deadline—university Vice President Gail Hanson derailed the effort, refusing to sign off on the grant application because it would impose a class registration hold on students who failed to complete mandatory sexual assault training.
Since the news hit, American University students have rallied to convince administrators to green-light the application before the final deadline. (It's tomorrow).
Last night, around 50 students joined Hanson at an on-campus meeting led by student grant advocates Leigh Ellis and Quinn Pregliasco. The topic: "American University REFUSES to apply for the VAWA campus grant." Despite the strong showing, the event deflated student hopes that they could succeed in pushing the application through this year. "At one point, a student asked what would be necessary to submit the grant by Thursday," Pregliasco says. "[Hanson] said it was not possible."
Now, Ellis and Pregliasco—both seniors—are urging students to push for improved sexual assault resources on campus, regardless of the status of the grant. "I encouraged everyone to keep emailing and asking for meetings to constantly ask for updates on the status of these programs that she says AU will pursue without the grant," Pregliasco says. "I told them to email in a month, two months, and six months."
In a letter published in American University campus newspaper the Eagle, Undergraduate Senator Brett Atanasio boosted the campaign. Atanasio called out the administration for enforcing mandatory alcohol awareness training, but refusing to institute similar trainings around sexual assault. [UPDATE: AU contests Atanasio's claim, below].
"The rationale behind AlcoholEdu is that alcohol is an intractable part of college life, and because of that students must be educated in order to understand how to handle alcohol and protect themselves," Atanasio wrote. "Unfortunately, sexual assault and rape are also a part of college life, even here at American University. If American University were to receive over $300,000 to provide help and services to victims of sexual assault and violence, it could go that much farther empowering students with the knowledge they need to understand consensual sex and ways they can protect themselves from rape." UPDATE: American University has written in to correct Atanasio's claim. Contrary to Atanasio's letter, the university says that its AlcoholEdu training is not, in fact, strictly "mandatory": "every new undergraduate student is expected to take AlcoholEdu for College and to pass the course exam, but the university does not sanction students for failing to complete the course (ie: put a stop on a student account)."
The story has one comment: "I'm not taking a mandatory sexual assault course, nor should anyone who doesn't want to. Good job for derailing it AU, keep up the good work."
Tomorrow—the day the application was to be submitted—campus activists will stage a rally to protest the administration's handling of the process. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., students are urged to "wear black and bring signs" on the campus quad. Suggested signs: "AU do you care enough to act?"; "VAWA NOW!"; and "AU who will you sacrifice?" Answer: "THEIR STUDENTS!"