Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Students protest refused sexual assault grant, confront Hanson

Students protest refused sexual assault grant, confront Hanson
Robert Lutz holds a sign during Thursday\'s protest.

With more than 40 students camped outside her office, Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson agreed to hold an open forum on sexual assault in early fall 2011.

The forum would outline and present updates on AU’s plan to increase sexual assault programs and education on campus.

Students originally lobbied Hanson to sign a Department of Justice grant proposal that would give AU $300,000 over three years and require students to participate in SexualAssaultEdu, an online program similar to AlcoholEdu, and a Welcome Week presentation on sexual assault. Unlike AlcoholEdu, students would face a stop on their account if they did not participate, holding up their class registration.

  Courtesy of ETHAN MILLER

Hanson would not sign the grant proposal — due March 31 — because of her concerns with mandatory education enforced by placing stops on student accounts.

Without her signature, the proposal cannot move forward in University administration to be submitted to the Department of Justice.

Hanson said the University had budgeted $150,000 for the next two years to increase sexual assault programs and education on campus, making the grant money unnecessary.

“We already have both the institutional funds and the commitment to this issue to take the steps outlined in the grant,” Hanson said to students protesting outside her office.

Dean of Students Robert Hradsky and Associate Dean of Students Michelle Espinosa were also present to provide additional explanations of the programs funded by AU budget money.

“Each of the initiatives in the grant is in place and growing, being put in place or will happen down the line based on our budget plans,” said Espinosa, who also oversees the Wellness Center and worked to hire a sexual health educator this fall.

After initially trying to get Hanson’s signature on the grant proposal, students then moved to get her signature on a document committing to meeting the five main goals of the grant with the money that the University has budgeted.

These goals include providing training for Public Safety officers, starting a Men Creating Change group on campus, creating a Community Coordinated Response team, implementing mandatory education on sexual assault for all new students and hiring a victim advocate with confidentiality, who could serve as an intermediary between victims and administration so the victim could remain anonymous.


Voices echoed around the quad Thursday morning, shouting “Hey Dr. Hanson, hey, sign the VAWA [Violence Against Women Act] grant today.”

Students and community activists, including representatives from the Feminist Majority Foundation, marched around the quad protesting Hanson’s decision not to sign the proposal.

As rain drizzled overhead, the group of 40 protestors, holding signs and wearing pink armbands, passed bewildered students and tour groups.

After circling Main Campus several times, one protestor suggested the rally move to Hanson’s office, and the group marched through the Mary Graydon Center to the Office of Campus Life, presenting the grant proposal to Hanson one last time.

After Hanson reiterated her objections to signing the proposal, Leigh Ellis, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences who helped draft the grant proposal, presented a new document containing the same goals as the proposal. The students asked Hanson to sign the document, committing to using campus funds to enacting these goals.

Hanson, who has said she is “fundamentally opposed” to mandatory education, at first refused to sign the document, saying she wanted to have time to read over the outline of goals and think about it.

“We’re not in a fundamental disagreement that this is not an important issue,” Hanson said. “I have been fully accessible to all of you throughout this process, but I don’t sign things that I haven’t read.”

Students protested her delay, reminding her that on Tuesday night she verbally agreed to an open forum to outline campus plans and money in the fall.

The students threatened to stay outside her office until she signed the form, and Hanson returned to her office and read the document. After reading the document, she agreed to a fall meeting. At the meeting, she would provide updates on the campus’s work towards the goals of the proposal.

Hanson also edited the document’s mandatory education section before signing. The original document said AU will establish a mandatory education program for all new students, and Hanson edited it to say AU will “ensure that all new students are educated in the prevention of sexual assault, intimate partner violence [and] stalking.”

Despite the edit, Hanson indicated that her signature only applied to creating a comprehensive plan of action with students and holding an open forum by Oct. 15 if possible.

“It’s important that students felt their actions had made a difference, so I am satisfied as well,” Hanson said.

Ellis organized a discussion on the issue March 30.

“We’re here because she [Hanson] didn’t keep her word,” Ellis said.

Students continued to question Hanson’s commitment to stopping sexual assault on campus, asking if the money from the Office of Campus Life would adequately replace the programs funded by the grant.

“I’m just curious what you’re going to say to all the students who are sexually assaulted between now and when you decide to act on these problems,” one student said at the protest.

Ellis said she’s disappointed Hanson didn’t sign the grant proposal, but she’s encouraged by the agreement for the fall meeting.

“We still have hope because of her signature,” Ellis said.

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