More than 200 students marched from the Quiet Green to the home of President Christina Paxson P’19 Wednesday to demand that the administration improve its anti-sexual violence efforts.
The event was part of the Week of Protest led by End Sexual Violence at Brown, a coalition of student organizations. The rally followed a poster campaign held earlier this week, which saw approximately 2,000 posters reading statements including “Dear survivors, we hear you,” and “End the silence, end the violence,” hung around campus before being rapidly taken down.
Shortly after the poster campaign, a plaque outside Diman House was covered with tape to read “man House” by a member of Delta Phi and another unidentified individual who lives in Diman, drawing University attention and inciting student backlash, The Herald previously reported.
Allegations that some student residents of Diman had removed posters and made statements that made others feel unsafe have been provided to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards to be investigated, according to an email from Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students Koren Bakkegard addressed to Diman residents.
“The goal of the movement in general is definitely to get the administration to work more with prevention and education and also with survivor support,” ESV co-organizer Bianca Bergsneider ’23 said. “The movement has this cool other facet of garnering community support in that we want it to be a huge awareness campaign.”
On the Quiet Green during Wednesday’s demonstration, speakers shared the ways in which sexual violence has pervaded their lives at Brown.
“Every attendee of this rally is taking time out of their already busy schedule to advocate for themselves because we can’t trust Brown to advocate for us,” Karma Selsey ’24 said to the crowd. “I am proud to stand in solidarity with you all, even though we shouldn’t feel the need to be here in the first place. As a first-year student attempting to navigate college while dealing with my marginalized identity on multiple fronts, it’s people like you that remind me to keep fighting.”
The co-organizers worked to maintain social distancing at the protest. Despite the logistical challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the demonstration provided an outlet for students to express their support for the anti-sexual violence movement.
“This is a really important issue, and I wanted to come out and show my support,” participant Leo Gordon ’23 said.
Prior to the protest, ESV met with the Student Activities Office Director Joie Steele to ensure that it would not pose a health risk to students. Co-organizers also expressed appreciation for the work of Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Advocate Alana Sacks and Title IX Coordinator Rene Davis to mitigate sexual violence and support survivors on campus.
“They’re both doing amazing work,” ESV co-organizer Amelia Wyckoff ’22 told The Herald. “They’re just really incredible people who want to do what’s best.”
But the ESV co-organizers said that, as a whole, the University must do more to address sexual violence on campus. The coalition wants the administration to approach the issue of sexual violence with the same level of attention it affords the coronavirus pandemic.
“When the administration wants to tackle a crisis, they can,” ESV co-organizer Natalie Fredman ’21 said. “We’ve seen how much they’ve been on top of COVID.”
The University acknowledged that sexual violence is a serious issue.
“Continued progress toward sustainable change comes from the collective work of our community, including the efforts of students and others to call attention to incidents of sexual assault and the impact they have,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald about the Week of Protest. “For as long as this remains a societal problem, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to preventing incidents and supporting those most directly impacted.”
ESV co-organizers hope to channel the momentum from the student protest into an email campaign, according to co-organizer Ha-Jung Kim ’23. Originally scheduled to take place during the Week of Protest, the organizers announced in a Thursday Instagram post that the campaign, in which participants will email administrators a list of demands, will occur before the end of the spring semester.
“The idea of the email campaign is to really show the Brown administration that this isn’t just something that a couple of disgruntled student activists care about,” Fredman said. “This is something that the broader Brown community cares about.”
After the email campaign, ESV co-organizers hope to work with the administration to meet their demands.
A concern of particular note to the ESV co-organizers is that students tend to face an increased risk of sexual violence at the start of their first two semesters of college, a period known as the “red zone.”
“In the summer, we have freshmen returning to campus as well as people getting vaccinated and returning to a higher level of socializing, so we foresee that being a pretty intense red zone,” Wyckoff said. “We’re hoping that the demands that we’re publishing now can be implemented in the next month before the red zone so that we can protect freshmen.”
At the same time, the ESV co-organizers noted the systemic nature of the issue at hand.
“Sexual violence doesn’t begin and end with the administration,” Fredman said, “We’re focusing on the Brown administration because they’re the people in the position of power to create change, but we also see the fact that sexual violence is a structural problem.”
The coalition identified the protest as an important first step in the fight against sexual violence. ESV co-organizers emphasized that their work will require sustained effort, as the movement is more than a reaction to any particular incident.
“Our anger does not need to be dictated by the martyrdom of a singular survivor and the retraumatization of that survivor,” ESV co-organizer Carter Woodruff ’21.5 said. “We should be angry every day that this persists, so we should be angry that we haven’t been angry enough in the past and that our complacency is part of the problem.”