In the year since the horrific break-in and sexual assault in Leonard Hall on Oct. 31, 2022, the American University administration has blatantly disregarded calls to action from organizers and students. In the aftermath of this tragic event, over 1,400 students signed a letter to President Burwell demanding five actions be taken to protect survivors of sexual violence. It’s been a year, and we have yet to see any of the five actions implemented, despite the resounding demand by the student body.
As you may recall, student organizers staged a walkout following the inadequate response by the University to the assault in Leonard Hall, garnering support from hundreds of student and staff attendees. A similar walkout took place this semester on the anniversary of last year’s walkout, this time with student organizers demanding 11 actions from the University. Over 400 students, and counting, have signed this new letter, according to student organizer Julia Comino.
Once again, students and faculty showed up, dressed in red and holding signs inscribed with phrases such as “administration has failed us.” This time, instead of solely focusing on a continuously disappointing administration, this walkout also collaborated with the Every Voice Coalition, a group of students and survivors who have sought action for survivors from the D.C. Council.
This past summer, the “Institution of Higher Education Sexual Misconduct Reporting and Resource Accessibility Act of 2023” was introduced by multiple D.C. Council members, which would expand Title IX and sexual misconduct protections at D.C. colleges. This bill will effectively require all D.C. college students to attend a university-facilitated sexual misconduct training, and require higher education institutions to have a “confidential resource advisor,” who provides both ongoing and emergency services to students who report sexual misconduct.
The bill would also ensure that Title IX employees are annually trained in how to properly handle sexual misconduct, focusing on trauma-informed responses. It also contains a myriad of other safeguards and regulations.
On Nov. 30, multiple students from AU and other universities in the District bravely gave testimonies to the D.C. Council, conveying students’ desires for this bill. Were this legislation passed, university administrations like AU’s would no longer ignore their students' cries for action — they would be required to implement the actions in the bill.
This legislation is imperative to ensuring that if and, unfortunately, when another incident of sexual violence at AU occurs, the University will not have the luxury of opting for surface-level emails that fail to disclose crucial information, pizza parties for those affected and an overall lackluster response for the AU community at large.
It is a painful reality that 59 percent of undergraduate women and 23 percent of undergraduate gender non-conforming people experience sexual misconduct or violence while enrolled in university, and those are only the reported cases. The fact remains that sexual violence has a certain level of inevitability on college campuses. The AU administration has both a moral and pragmatic obligation to take the necessary steps implored to protect those students.
We should not have to wait for another traumatic incident of sexual violence for meaningful action. AU’s Change Can’t Wait Campaign should not extend to only the breadth of the University’s comfort. These changes can’t wait for survivors, or anyone at risk of experiencing sexual misconduct at AU.
Alice Still is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Zoe Bell, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.