For many, the idea of being in your first year of law school is daunting enough. But if you were to throw in lobbying and challenging legislation, many would crumble under the pressure. However, this is exactly what Grace Starling has been doing ever since House Bill 51 was introduced to the Georgia House of Representatives. House Bill 51 works to effectively strip colleges and universities of their ability to discipline students who have been accused and found responsible of sexual assault. The bill as Starling explains, “Prioritizes the accused’s rights over the victim’s, making it more difficult for survivors to come forward and have access to the support required to allow the victim to remain in school.” As a survivor, Starling believes that she fully understands the ramifications of such dangerous legislation. Starling and other students throughout the state of Georgia are working daily to what they believe is “stand up against bad legislation.” Under current state law students possess full agency over whether they report sexual assault incidents to school officials or law enforcement. However, under the proposed House Bill 51, certain school officials would be required to report any and all conversations had with victims regarding sexual assault allegations to law enforcement.
After attending the Women’s March in Atlanta, Starling wanted to keep the momentum going. “I always find it is the things that affect you personally that propels you into politics,” says Starling. She has taken on a leadership role in opposition of this legislation as she continues her work with organizing and developing campaigns in collaboration with other students. “ I saw that there was a real great need for collaboration across universities and it needed to be a grassroots movement as opposed to something already set in place for victims,” Starling says.
At our initial meeting, House Bill 51 was still in the House of Representatives. However, since this time the bill has been passed on to the Senate but has since been rejected. Starling held onto her fighting spirit throughout the trials and had a message for Georgia officials, “We are prepared to fight just as hard to make this a piece of legislation that senators won’t want to touch." She is working to get the message across that college students should have the right to decide how they want to handle their assaults, who they tell, and when. Most importantly Starling believes it is vital that Georgia Senators understand that they are being held accountable and are expected to represent their constituents. “Running unopposed for so many years has given some politicians a sense of entitlement and a false understanding that they can ignore their constituents. We have to show them that it is just not true,” she explains. Her message to others hoping to follow in her footsteps,“ Reach out to your local representatives. Reach out to other activists. I am so empowered and appreciative that so many young people, women, and people of color are standing up for what they believe in and joining the political conversation.”