Mar Lee

Mar Lee, a senior Dear UNL member, poses in front of the Nebraska State Capitol on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Editor’s Note: Mar Lee uses they/them/their pronouns.

Dear UNL member Mar Lee sat at a table across from the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee and told the committee about the time they were sexually assaulted on a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study abroad trip.

Lee told the committee about having to sit next to their alleged assaulter in class after the incident. They also mentioned their professor’s response, which was to be more careful. The professor did not offer Lee any resources to help them, according to their testimony

Finally, Lee teared up as they showed the committee their tattoo, which encourages Lee to root their thoughts in peace. Lee then urged the committee to support LB 702: Adopt the Campus Safety Act. 

“Every day, I look at this tattoo, and it reminds me that instead of giving into the blame … what happened was not my fault,” Lee said in their testimony. “Being a victim of sexual violence is nobody’s fault, and the only fault lies with the perpetrators and the system that allows them to persist.”

Despite Lee and other proponent’s efforts, the bill died in committee and is unlikely to pass.

LB 702 moved to ensure that universities in Nebraska would follow specific guidelines to guarantee Title IX investigators and decision-makers are trained appropriately, according to Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh who introduced the bill. The bill was not well-liked among different universities, including UNL, because institutions feared the government would infringe upon their ability to operate, according to Cavanaugh.

But Cavanaugh said she intends to revive LB 534 so Nebraska universities can submit data collected from campus climate surveys to the state. The collected data will give the state government information about sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and the training of the campus’s Title IX administrators. 

“The purpose is so that the legislature knows what’s happening on campuses from the perspective of the people enrolled, not from what it reported to us by the university,” she said. 

Cavanaugh said she introduced LB 702 because she believed Nebraska’s postsecondary institutions were not handling sexual misconduct cases to the best of their ability.

“It’s important to have these conversations, even if we can’t get the bill out of the committee,” she said. “If we’re not shining a light on it to show that this is happening, then we’re not going to see change.”

She said she had several meetings with lawyers to attempt to find a solution to implement LB 702 without overstepping, but it was difficult to find a solution every university was content with. 

“That’s the kind of stumbling block that we have, telling them how to do their work versus … trying to come up with something that’s agreeable to everyone and not unconstitutional,” Cavanaugh said. 

Cavanaugh intends to move forward with LB 534 so universities can be held accountable and new legislation can be passed based off of the survey results, she said.

Lee said they are disappointed the bill will not pass. But after their testimony, they became involved in Dear UNL and will continue to advocate for change. 

“I’m hopeful that in future legislative sessions, either Sen. Cavanaugh or another senator will re-introduce something similar to the Campus Safety Act,” they said. “Because I know if something does, I will be there testifying and spelling out directly how this has been an absolute disaster as far as Title IX handling people’s sexual assault cases.”

Cavanaugh said she believes LB 534 will pass and does not foresee complications. She is motivated to advocate for change to impact people’s lives for the better. 

“I think it’s really important to use the opportunity as a platform to raise up issues that impact women and issues that typically are challenging to talk about, no matter who you are,” she said. “I think it’s my duty to use my voice to raise up the voices of others.”

Editors’ Note: If you or someone you know has had an experience with the Title IX office you’d like to share with The Daily Nebraskan, please email investigations@dailynebraskan.com.

This article is part of a Title IX series. Click here for a table of contents.