Students Protest College’s Handling of Sexual Assault

The free speech board outside Bates painted during the Fall Week of Action. Photo credit: Olivia Diulus 

The free speech board outside Bates painted during the Fall Week of Action. Photo credit: Olivia Diulus 

The first week of November, the college community received yet another campus safety alert regarding a report of a sexual assault that took place the weekend before Halloween. This comes in the midst of a semester where the issue of sexual assault on campus has been a major concern of many students. In this vein, last month, dozens of SLC students gathered at the Yoko Ono structure for the “Still Not Asking for It Protest” to protest rape culture and the way the college handles this issue.    

The protest was organized by the Sarah Lawrence chapter of It’s On Us, a national campaign that was brought to SLC this semester, as part of the organization’s Fall Week of Action on campus.

Emma Heisler-Murray (’18), the founder of It’s On Us at Sarah Lawrence, began the protest by reading out a list of demands addressed to the administration while standing on the Yoko Ono structure. The list of demands included a wide range of changes—from policy changes such as accountability of the administration for violation of laws surrounding sexual assault response and Title IX training, to calls for cultural changes such as a greater focus on the safety of students and not on the image of the college. Poems were also read out by sexual assault survivors.

Protestors held signs saying “No means no”, “My clothes do not determine my consent”, and shouted chants like “Policy and protection, we want action”. They marched to Dean Allen Green, the Dean of Equity and Inclusion’s office, where they handed him the list of demands. The demonstrators proceeded to march from Dean Green’s office to Westlands, and back to the Yoko Ono structure.

Student protesters interviewed expressed various reasons on why they thought the protest was important and why they attended.

“I was at the protest because I’m a member of the Its On Us Club at SLC and think it’s important to create a space where we bring awareness to sexual assault on college campuses, let assaulters know that this is not okay, and help survivors feel safe,” said student Sophia Traina (’20).

Fellow student Jennifer Morris (’20) agreed, saying, “I was at the protest because I think the college needs to change the way they handle sexual assault and harassment. This is important because it happens way too much on this campus and it’s not talked about.”

Traina added, “I hope to see all of the things we delivered to Al Green to be changed. I hope that when protests like this happen, it opens people’s minds to see that sexual assault is a problem even on small campuses like ours. I think a lot of people brush it off and think it would never happen around them, but it does.”

Sanjay Conroy (’20) thinks the campus community deserves better. “This is something that impacts everybody on campus no matter what gender you are, and when one person — even one person—has to deal with something like this and then get treated badly by the administration, everybody gets screwed, and that’s not fair.”

Is Sarah Lawrence doing enough work around this issue? Heisler-Murray does not think so. “I do not think the school is doing enough to make every student feel safe, which is why we protest,” she said.

Conroy added, “I’d like to see the administration be gentler with survivors and more supportive, instead of re-victimizing and making it like somehow the survivor is at fault, or making somebody tell their story over and over, or write it down, or tell people they’re not comfortable telling. It’s hard enough to go through it, it’s even harder to have to tell it once, it’s too much to ask someone to do that more than once.”

Traina said, “I think there is room for improvement for a safe environment. I think that the main roads students walk on need to be monitored better. Personally, I have been catcalled by people driving by and there have been recent complaints of it happening more frequently. I try and walk home late at night in a group and if that’s not possible for me, I don’t want to feel unsafe.”

It’s On Us is not the only student organization on campus that has been working to prevent sexual assault. Natalie Grieco (’17), co-chair of Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood, said, “I think it’s important to take a nuanced approach to examining these issues and changing the structures around them that are specific to the environment at Sarah Lawrence. Vox has been working for several years on incorporating a consent workshop into seminar classes. Because we are a discussion based school, an atmosphere in which there is open dialogue and engagement with complex issues around sexual assault is necessary.”

In response to the Phoenix, Dean Green said, “The list of student demands [from the protest] will definitely be considered as we begin the work of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Subcommittee. As the Title IX Coordinator I am committed to making the college a safe environment for everyone.”

Shane Tan '20

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.