Association of Big Ten Students discuss Title IX, necessity of collaboration
On Sept. 13, the Association of Big Ten Students (ABTS), an organization representing all 14 Big Ten student bodies, wrote a public letter to Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, regarding the Department of Education’s decision to rescind Title ix guidelines regarding sexual assault on university campuses “We strongly oppose the complete erasure of Title IX policies regarding sexual misconduct or other changes that would erode much-needed protections for student victim-survivors,” ABTS wrote.
The Underground sat down with ABTS members Executive Director Samantha Geisinger and Communications and Public Relations Director Andrew Uhring to discuss Title IX and the future of Big Ten collaboration.
Title IX, according to Geisinger, is the biggest initiative that ABTS is working on. “What we’re advocating for is: include us in the conversation so that we can at least know what’s going on,” Geisinger said. “We can be a part of it. We can work with you because we know what’s best on our campuses, not you.”
ABTS received some backlash for the letter, what some claimed to be a partisan move by a supposedly non-partisan organization. However, Uhring disagreed with this sentiment. “With the questions that we get engaged in, it’s very seldom that it is a partisan answer,” Uhring said. “It’s a political answer, but it’s not a partisan answer…Because what’s best for students isn’t Republican or Democrat. It’s what’s best for students. And that’s what we always aim to achieve.”
Geisinger agreed with Uhring, citing her affiliation with the Republican Party. “If I can make these kinds of stances, I think that it’s not really that partisan,” she said.
ABTS’s method for advocacy, Geisinger explained, relies on collaboration. “My goal…is to try to get all of the schools as engaged as possible because our initiatives aren’t successful unless they all take part,” Geisinger said. “If we only have ten schools sharing things on social media, then we’re not winning, we’re not doing as much as we can.”
After deciding on an issue that they feel impacts students, ABTS works on drafting scripted phone calls, social media posts and letters to congresspeople. Depending on the issue, Uhring said, ABTS will either work through the universities or take a secondary approach. “Sometimes we’ll do an ABTS centered thing where this is the message, everyone should adopt this message,” Uhring said. “Sometimes we’ll do a more bottom-up approach…all of the individual colleges or universities will make their own posts and we’ll push those.”
Geisinger and Uhring gave their advocacy for mental health last year as an example. Last year, ABTS worked through schools across the country to lobby congressman in support for the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 and the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.
The latter passed the House of Representatives in July 2016.
“We think that we had a big hand in that because it was very successful,” Geisinger said. “We reached out to colleges not just in the Big Ten…And that was really cool because actually seeing something go through is exciting.”
Geisinger said that their goal for the year is to become a 501(c)(3), or tax-exempt non-profit, “so that we are able to fundraise and have a bank account. Because currently… we have these 14 student governments spread out around the country and were just this org that’s floating. We’re not tied to anything.”
ABTS also expressed interest in collaborating with the Its On Us campaign, a social movement started in the Obama Administration focusing on raising awareness and preventing sexual assault. “Because…the Obama administration is not in,” Geisinger said, “it’s not as big of a national movement anymore. By working with Penn State, she said, “We’re trying to make it become more of a movement again.”
ABTS also discussed their involvement with the Vote B1G campaign, designed to increase student voting in the conference. “It was not ridiculously successful,” Geisinger said, “but what it did was get the administrations at our schools to notice that we’re doing this.” She added that Vote B1G helped invite collaboration between schools to increase voter turnout, as well as to better report voter registration numbers. Both ABTS members said that this was an area Penn State needed to improve on.
Geisinger did, however, feel as though Penn State had been successful with student involvement in the administration. “Up until this year, we’ve had pretty good representation for students on the board of Trustees,” Geisinger said. “I think we have a really good relationship with our administrators… Our administration values our opinions a lot more than some of the other Big Ten schools do.”
Geisinger said that the driving factor behind her work with ABTS was civic engagement. “I’m so in love with being civically engaged,” Geisinger said. “And I want other students to recognize that they really do have the chance to voice their opinion and make a change in this world and affect politics if they so choose to do. “