Survivors’ Justice Coalition and Explain the Asterisk co-organize student walkout against sexual violence

The nationwide protest gathered roughly 20 colleges across the U.S. in support of survivors of sexual violence

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Ariana Gonzalez and Caitlin Reardon / Daily Collegian

The Survivors’ Justice Coalition and Explain the Asterisk organized a march on April 28, 2022 to protest sexual assault on campus. The march was part of a nationwide walkout against sexual violence on college campuses formed by the Explain the Asterisk organization. Protesters met in front of the University of Massachusetts Student Union and marched to Whitmore Administration Building.

“We really just wanted to have this event so we continue to educate and talk about the supports that survivors need not only at UMass, because the issue’s not confined here — this is a nationwide issue,” Clare Sheedy, an organizer from ETA, said.

Sheedy also cited how 20-to-30 different colleges participated in the national walkout as there are approximately 20 ETA chapters at universities across the country.

Throughout the march, protesters chanted, “However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”; “Say it once, say it again, no excuse for violent men”; “Rapes and attacks, students fight back.”

As protesters made their way to Whitmore Administration Building, they continued chanting, passing around a megaphone that students used to openly share their experiences with sexual assault. The protestors also shared changes they wish to see happen at the University regarding proper handling of sexual violence on campus.

The majority of discussion centered around sexual violence at fraternities, the failings of consent-heavy education and inadequate steps taken by the administration surrounding sexual violence.

Anna Morel-Paletta, a sophomore sustainable community development major, shared her poem “Here is Your Proof.”

“We told you there’s a problem with sexual violence on our campus and you asked for proof, so here is your proof,” she read. “It’s in the 55 stories of violence at Theta Chi. It’s in the ink of signs made by protesters ‘UMass protects rapists.’ It’s the odorless, tasteless powder that dissolves into cheap wine on North Pleasant Street. It’s sitting in the Chancellor’s inbox, a list of demands, unanswered and unmet.”

Later on, students made their way inside the Whitmore Administration Building and sat down in the foyer outside of Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s office. Briefly, the group was asked to exit the building by Interim Deputy Chief of UMass Police Department, Damian DeWolf, who explained that the building was closed.

Ariana Gonzalez and Caitlin Reardon / Daily Collegian

The Survivor’s Justice Coalition conducted a survey where students could share their experiences at Theta Chi after students protested outside of the fraternity in the fall semester. Morel-Paletta shared that “53 people reported that they experienced violence at Theta Chi, 46 people shared their individual stories and three people said that they reported their experience to the administration and nothing was done” from survey results.

In light of the past list of demands from the Survivors’ Justice Coalition drafted in October 2021, the administration passed the Survivors’ Bill of Rights in December, formed the Title IX Student Advisory Taskforce and hired an outside firm to investigate previous sexual assault cases dating back to 2012.

The Coalition additionally created an updated list of demands for the administration in collaboration with Explain the Asterisk. While the Survivors’ Bill of Rights was passed by administration earlier this school year, other demands were not met. A new list was released to the administration.

“These past two semesters, University of Massachusetts students have continuously asked the administration to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable and increase support for survivors,” the newly-released list read. “We acknowledge this progress; however, we feel that not enough steps have been taken to ensure accountability and transparency.”

The new demands include:

  1. Permanent disassociation from Theta Chi due to their continued violence towards UMass students.
  2. Have all current and future reported cases investigated by an outside firm.
    1. Work with the Title IX Student Advisory taskforce to choose the investigating party.
  3. Create strictly enforced disciplinary guidelines for Greek life to ensure they are safe for students.
    1. Suspensions, expulsions, and any reinstatements must be publicly announced, along with detailed reasons for these actions.
    2. This must include denying re-entry for past suspended fraternities and those that are expelled in the future.
  4. Additional funding to the Center for Women and Community in order to increase the education team, and direct support services for survivors.
  5. Follow up on academic transcription notations for Title IX violations.
  6. Include the Center for Women and Community SASA Hotline phone number on every student’s UCard.
  7. Work with faculty to include Syllabus statements identifying their mandated reporter status.
  8. Create more signage with information about Title IX and mandated reporting for bathrooms around campus.
  9. Provide updates on efforts towards addressing sexual violence through emails, social media, the UMass Amherst Title IX website.

Demands one through three are those of the Survivors’ Justice Coalition; demands four through nine are those of the Explain the Asterisk organization.

After the protest, bands The Upstairs District, Stock Goblin and Sabé Büth performed in the ILC in front of Peet’s Coffee in favor of the protest to support survivors of sexual violence.

“SJC got all of the bands together and brought up the issue of sexual assaults happening at various house shows,” The Upstairs District said in a brief interview. “We were very concerned about it, so we want to do everything we can to support them and what they do. Keeping everyone happy and safe is a top priority.”

“We hope that when people see this, they aren’t afraid to go out to one of our shows, see some music, and have a good time,” the band added.

SJC and ETA have demonstrated a push for more regulation surrounding sexual violence consequences and social action in support of survivors. Updates and resources can be found on their social media pages.

The organizations can be found on Instagram @sjc.umass and @explaintheasteriskhc.

Ariana Gonzalez can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Arianaggonzz. Caitlin Reardon can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @caitlinjreardon.