The AU administration needs to protect survivors, not its reputation

The American University administration has been virtually silent in its communications with campus organizers

The AU administration needs to protect survivors, not its reputation

On Nov. 10, student organizers staged a walkout to protest the mishandling of sexual assault and misconduct on campus. Since then, the efforts of American University’s administration to meet student demands regarding sexual violence on campus have been lackluster. Furthermore, the response following the break-in and subsequent sexual assault in Leonard Hall has been painfully inadequate. 

Students were fearfully confused as to what was happening regarding the attack after five days of radio silence from the administration, while speculation quickly and unproductively circulated campus. This left students, especially female-identifying students, scared to be alone on campus, including in our dorms. After days of no communication with the student body, besides the initial announcement of the incident in Leonard Hall, students received three emails from the Office of Campus Life and other members of the AU administration. These emails were nothing more than surface level and failed to disclose meaningful information to students about the current status of the perpetrator, like if the individual was still on campus, which only perpetuated the fear ringing throughout the campus these last few weeks. 

Not only has the administration’s dwindling communication efforts with students and faculty been harmful, but the response to the survivors and other residents of Leonard Hall has been even more concerning. Rather than offering immediate resources to those directly and indirectly affected, the residents of Leonard received pizza parties, raffles for care packages and tables set up with candy and rape whistles provided by AUPD. This is both invalidating for those experiencing genuine trauma from these events, as well as simply unproductive. 

One resident of Leonard’s eighth floor spoke at the student-led walkout and recounted her horrifyingly frustrating experience with AUPD, whose sole purpose is to keep our community safe. After the officer continuously got her description wrong, the email that was sent out to all AU students and parents included the incorrect description of the perpetrator. The resident went on to tell those who attended the walkout that when she attempted to correct the description, AUPD told her it had no record of her report. This gross mishandling of extremely important and sensitive information further solidifies the distrust among students and AUPD. This incident brought multiple other stories of sexual assault and harassment on campus. In all of these cases, the victims were ignored, downplayed and had to beg the Office of Equity and Title IX and residence hall staff members to help them. 

In response to the AU administration’s inaction to make necessary changes to ensure student safety, students began organizing. Lillian Frame and Emily Minster, survivor advocates, organized the walkout to convey to the administration that the student body stands with survivors and demands action be taken. Hundreds of other students, including myself, proudly missed class and other obligations to demonstrate to the administration that we do not take this lightly. Their efforts at upkeeping their reputation of being a progressive school cannot be done with hollow promises of a “Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence.” 

The walkout was paired with a letter students signed outlining five demands that the University can implement to protect students from sexual violence. This working group completely ignores the plethora of organizers already doing this work on campus. It is a performative approach to fixing a systemic problem, one that students have already been clear in how the University can further alleviate sexual harassment and violence. Since this letter was delivered to the administration, organizations like It’s On Us, which has nearly 50,000 Instagram followers, have expressed their support for AU’s student organizers combatting sexual violence on campus, further putting pressure on the AU administration to implement students’ demands. 

It is disheartening, to say the least, to watch AU, a school that says it is committed to “creating an accessible and inclusive environment that supports and serves our community members,” categorically failing survivors. This includes those impacted by the Leonard incident and all survivors of sexual violence both on and off campus at AU. These five demands are not far-fetched or unrealistic expectations, and they are the bare minimum. As someone part of the 81 percent of women who have experienced some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime, I know firsthand how difficult and triggering these last few weeks have been for so many. Our school should have been steadfast in ensuring that the community has a voice in moving forward. 

Alice Still is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and is an opinion columnist for The Eagle 

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