Students discuss sexual assault on campus and Theta Chi protests at ‘Women-Led Gathering’

Students gathered on the second floor of the Student Union

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

By McKenna Premus and Sara Abdelouahed

On Wednesday afternoon, around 75 students sat in a circle on the ground of a large room on the second floor of the Student Union. The attendees took turns speaking, sharing their thoughts and experiences with sexual assault on the University of Massachusetts campus.

The “Women-Led Gathering” was organized to discuss the recent protests at the Theta Chi fraternity after sexual assault accusations surfaced last weekend. Attendees also used the space to discuss ideas to prevent sexual assault at the University.

“I just want people to have a space outside of protests and demonstrations in front of Theta Chi because I know that those can be very high-stress environments that maybe are not ideal for a lot of people to share how they feel about what’s going on,” said Ava Hawkes, a sophomore social thought and political economy major who organized the event.  “I wanted to have a space that is a little bit calmer, a little bit safer for people to share how they feel, to share their own experiences, [to] get to know people and build a coalition to move forward.”

Information about the student-organized gathering was posted and shared on social media platforms, stating: “We need a place to safely discuss our emotions, our concerns, and build a coalition to hold both Theta Chi and the administration accountable. Recent events have affected all of us in numerous ways; we need a space to navigate these events and figure out how we move forward.”

After speaking at a protest outside of Theta Chi on Monday evening, Hawkes wanted to create a space for students to share their experiences and thoughts.

“There’s just a lot of latent emotions, whether that’s anger, frustration, sadness, grief,” Hawkes said.“There is such a history of an ignorance of rape culture and misogyny on campus. I felt like it’s definitely a good time to get involved and to make not only myself heard, but to try and prop-up the voices of other women.”

The student-led gathering aimed to center the voices of students who have experienced sexual assault.

“The protests were really important to get our voices heard,” sophomore Michaela DeVos said. “But I think this is really important to hear more of the women who have survived this experience and hear their voices the loudest.”

DeVos, a women, gender, sexuality studies major, took notes during the discussion to provide to students who requested them.

The event garnered support from University faculty as well. Lynnette Arnold, an assistant professor in the department of anthropology, was encouraged to attend the event after receiving an email sent to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences faculty by Veronica Everett, an adjunct sociology professor at the University who spoke at Monday night’s protest.

“I just felt that it was important for faculty to be out here and showing support for our students,” Arnold said. “I’m also a mom to a kid, a girl — she’s five, but I think about this stuff a lot in terms of her growing up. . . I want [the] campus climate to be better for her but also for our students.”

Dr. Karen Cardozo, a lecturer in the women, gender, sexuality studies program, was also in attendance. “I’m here both as a concerned community member and because these are the issues that we teach about [and] are really important to our department program,” Cardozo said.

Caelyn Waite, a first year marketing major, heard about the event during her women, gender, sexuality studies class. “So many people don’t know how to talk about [sexual assault], and it’s always our responsibility to take care of ourselves instead of teaching… men that they need to control themselves,” Waite said.

Hawkes hopes that the University not only disbands the Theta Chi UMass Amherst chapter, but also makes efforts toward “disbanding numerous Greek life organizations and attacking the misogyny… and rape culture that is present in Greek life.”

“For too long the onus has been put on us to protect ourselves… but we know that in these spaces we definitely aren’t safe. If the University wants us to be safe, they have to eliminate those spaces,” Hawkes said.

 

McKenna Premus can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @mckenna_premus. Sara Abdelouahed can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @AbdelouahedSara.