Student Association discusses conversion therapy ban and meets with Assemblywoman Jill Billings


Student Association logo. Image obtained from the UWL Student Association Facebook Page.

Julia Wille, Student Government Reporter

On Wednesday, Nov. 17, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Student Association (SA) met for their weekly meeting and heard from  Wisconsin State Assembly guest speaker Jill Billings. The SA also heard from UWL’s division of diversity and inclusion and passed two resolutions. One in solidarity with sexual assault victims and the other speaking out against the use of conversion therapy in La Crosse.  

To start the meeting State Assembly representative Jill Billings came to talk to the SA about the different bills she is working on and hopes to work on in the future as well as to get input from student senators. Billings has been in the state assembly for 10 years and her districts have always included a student population. She said, “I have always felt that I appreciate student voices. I think it makes us a better community, having all the students here.”  

Billings said that her top three areas of concern that she focuses on are children and family security, higher education, and substance abuse. She then went on to discuss three bills that she is currently working on to get passed. The first bill she talked about was the introduction of a Fentanyl bill. She said, “The bill will increase the penalty for dealing fentanyl, over the years this drug has become more evasive in Wisconsin.” She also said that this was a bill that was recommended to her by local law enforcement, and she is confident that it will be passed.  

The second bill she talked about was a bill that is aimed at reversing the law that allows children under the age of 18 to be charged with prostitution. As of right now if a child is human trafficked and forced into prostitution, they could be charged with prostitution. Billings said that this bill receives a lot of pushback but gets closer to being passed every year. 

The third bill she discussed was based on a local request to help make it possible for disabled individuals to get their hunting licenses. There is a restriction on what type of ID can be used to obtain a hunting license, in the new bill Billings said, “People will be able to use an ID instead of a driver’s license to get a hunting license.” Not everyone can have a driver’s license, so this allows those individuals to be able to hunt. 

The next guest speakers that came to the SA meeting were individuals from the division of diversity and inclusion, Assistant Vice Chancellor for diversity & inclusion Dina Zavala, Vice Chancellor for diversity & inclusion Barbara Stewart, and Director for the center of transformative justice Dr. Tara Nelson.  

Dina Zavala talked about some of the programs that the D&I division runs and offers. One of the programs she disused was Upward Bound (UB). This is a program that is federally funded that is aimed towards helping students prepare for college and then finish their college or technical degree. Zavala said, “This program serves 95 students every year that are low-income students and first-generation students and diverse students.” The UWL UB program is for high school students in the La Crosse area. These students will be offered tutoring over the summer and fall. In the summer students would be able to live on campus at UWL and get the college experience while earning high school credits. They work closely with students to make sure they are successful in high school and graduate high school and are on the track for college.  

Barbara Stewart then talked about UWL’s Policy Group on Race. This is a group that was established in the fall semester of 2020. Their task is to assess UWL policies and make a recommendation for changes so that faculty, staff, and students of color at UWL can be treated more equitably. Stewart said that they took the first semester of their creation to learn more about antiracism and diversity work and how best to address issues at UWL. In the second semester, they then began to formulate thoughts on how they wanted to break the issues down. Stewart said, “There is a myriad of issues on our campus and in our greater community related to race.”  

Later in the meeting, the SA discussed a resolution that establishes the SA’s support for survivors of sexual assault. The authors of this resolution were student senators, Ryan Sperling and Cassie Ziegler. The resolution states that victims may feel unsupported in the UWL social climate, and the SA wants to work to make everyone feel comfortable on and off-campus. The resolution also supports any actions that UWL is taking to help prevent sexual assault on campus as well as efforts to support victims. This resolution will be sent out to many people in local government, in the administration, and to all UWL students. The resolution was passed with complete support by the student senate.  

 Another resolution was also brought to the senate that called for a conversion therapy ban in La Crosse by student senators Ryan Sperling, Lindsey Stryzewski, and Cait McReavy. Conversion therapy is a practice that intends to change an individual’s sexuality or gender identity and the City of La Crosse does not currently have a ban on this practice for people under the age of 18. In the US 20 states have a ban on conversion therapy for individuals under the age of 18 and in the state of Wisconsin, many cities have also banned this practice on minors.  

This resolution stated the UWLSA condemnation of conversion therapy and called on the city of La Crosse Common Council to introduce legislation banning conversion therapy for minors. McReavy said, “We feel that this is important because there has been a wealth of scientific studies that show that this practice is ineffective, but it is also incredibly psychologically damaging for those who are forced to go through it.” The resolution will be sent to different governing and interest groups to try and get this ban passed through the city council in La Crosse.