Students stage anniversary protest against University inaction on sexual violence
“What we should not be doing is standing here a year later fighting for our rights again.”
Students showed up in a sea of red to protest sexual violence and demand “change, transparency and accountability” from the American University administration on Friday, the anniversary of last year’s walkout against sexual violence on campus.
After a break-in and sexual assault in Leonard Hall in October 2022, students organized a walkout amid concerns about campus sexual violence to hundreds of attendees. One year later, No More AU and It’s On Us at American organized another protest and workshop where students could author testimony for an upcoming D.C. City Council bill that would create amnesty policies for students reporting sexual violence.
Speakers at the demonstration proclaimed dissatisfaction with the University’s action since the first walkout and cited the list of demands students issued at the 2022 demonstration, which they said have not been fulfilled.
Julia Comino, a junior in the School of Communication and School of Public Affairs, was one of the protest organizers and laid out 11 demands for the University:
- Implement a survivor’s bill of rights by May 1, 2024.
- Implement sexual violence prevention trainings for all University students, faculty and staff.
- Enter into a minimum of a three-year contract with a “reputable” organization to lead these trainings, which should be mandatory and in person.
- Implement an amnesty policy to protect students who may be in violation of University policies when reporting sexual violence.
- Conduct and publically publish an annual campus climate survey that collects data regarding on-campus sexual violence.
- Hire a third Title IX investigator by the start of the 2024-25 academic year.
- Launch a formal student ambassador program to solicit student input on issues of campus safety and sexual violence prevention.
- Publish the finalized recommendations of the Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence.
- Hire at least one trauma-informed counselor trained in sexual violence response for the Center for Well-Being Programs and Psychological Services.
- Require the Office of Equity and Title IX to update their website on a monthly basis to accurately reflect the state of federal and University Title IX policy.
- Provide emergency contraceptives that are “both affordable and available 24/7.”
Comino, who is also a secretary in AU student government, said that the protest was also intended to give a platform to survivors’ perspectives.
“A huge part of [the protest] is just uplifting survivor voices –– giving survivors the chance to talk about why these policies would impact them, talk about systems that have failed them and bring attention to that,” Comino told the Eagle. “Because if we don’t bring attention to it, they’re just gonna keep failing other people, failing other survivors.”
Many of the event’s speakers expressed dismay and frustration at what they felt was a lack of action from the administration.
“We should be in class right now. We should be at work. We should be at our internships. We should be learning. We should be spending time with friends,” said Emily Minster, a current CLEG graduate student who organized the 2022 walkout as an undergrad. “But what we should not be doing is standing here a year later fighting for our rights again.”
On Nov. 9, the University sent out a campus-wide email with updates about the investigation into the incident of sexual violence in Leonard Hall and the actions that the University said has been taken in the last year. Sulakshi Ramamoorthi, a junior in the School of International Service and president of No More AU, said she thought that the email was “conveniently timed.”
“I think it’s bullshit, personally,” Ramamoorthi said. “I really want to see if they actually live up to the things that they say that they're going to do.”
Chelsea Morton, a sophomore in SIS who spoke at the protest, said that she chose to participate because she wanted to protest sexual violence against Black women.
“I feel like in a lot of those spaces Black women aren’t represented as much,” Morton said. “I wanted to be that representation for us.”
Morton added that she felt that the lack of representation for Black women in the sexual violence prevention movement leads to “further dehumanization of Black women.”
“Oftentimes we’re not believed because our humanity isn't always valued and seen,” Morton said. “I believe that if we are in those spaces, it allows us to make ourselves known and to make ourselves see that our lives do in fact matter and that our bodies do matter. Just as much as our white counterparts.”
Adah Nordan, a first-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that she attended the protest because she encountered issues with the Title IX Office within her first few months at AU.
“I’ve not only experienced the failures of it, but a lot of my friends have,” she said. “It just feels like this school cares a lot more about keeping things quiet than it does about helping their students.”
Organizers then urged protesters to attend a testimony workshop hosted by Every Voice Coalition, a national organization that works to combat sexual violence on college campuses with state legislation.
During the workshop, Minster, the D.C. co-state director for Every Voice, explained the current bill that the organization is working on passing — the “Institution of Higher Education Sexual Misconduct Reporting and Resource Accessibility Act of 2023.” The bill focuses on fulfilling demands such as mandatory and in-person sexual violence prevention trainings and implementation of an amnesty policy through state legislation rather than on-campus policies.
Minster also provided guidance on sending in and giving testimony to support the bill’s passing, stating they need student voices to “show the council members that this bill matters.” The bill will be introduced to the D.C. Council on Nov. 30.
Julia Squitteri, a sophomore in SPA and the policy and research director for It’s On Us, said in her speech that she wants to see the University administration provide greater support to students and survivors on campus.
“When we say support survivors, we’re not just asking for the genuine support of current survivors,” said Squitteri in her speech. “We are asking for the prevention of future survivors. People shouldn’t be made into survivors due to their experiences on this campus and it falls on University administration to make that happen.”
Students who have experienced sexual assault or harassment can seek support through confidential resources such as the University’s Center for Well-Being Programs and Psychological Services, the Student Health Center, the Kay Spiritual Life Center or the following hotlines:
Collegiate Assistance Program: 1-855-678-8679
Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (RAINN) anonymous chat
RAINN hotline: 1-800-656-4673
DC Rape Crisis Center: 202-333-7273
Non-confidential resources include the University’s Title IX Office and AUPD.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Julia Comino as the chair of the Undergraduate Senate’s Special Committee on Combating Sexual Violence and Harassment as a senator for the Class of 2025. She no longer holds that role and is now an AUSG secretary. Emily Minster was identified as an alumna as opposed to a graduate student at AU. No More AU and It’s On Us at American were not the organizers of the demonstration, the protest was organized by individual students.
This article was edited by Abigail Hatting, Zoe Bell, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks.