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End Sexual Violence at Brown

On February 7th and 8th of this year, student activists plastered Brown’s campus with the message: “Brown University has a sexual violence problem, and the administration doesn’t care.” Student activists have been calling for an adequate response to the rampant issue of gender-based violence experienced by the Brown student body for decades; the current task force the university touts was a result of a 400 person protest in 2015. And still, the problem persists. 

The 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct by the Association of American Universities and Westate reported that 24.5 percent of women, 8 percent of men, and 30.2 percet of trans men, women, and non-binary participants have survived nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent since coming to Brown. According to Brian Clark’s statement in the BDH, the university’s current efforts include consent education for first-years, the creation of a Title IX and Gender Equity office, and peer education programs. These are not indicative of a commitment to anti-sexual violence work and do not address the issue at the correct scale. Let us remember, however, that the university is federally required to have a Title IX office, that peer education programs have not been given adequate resources, and first-year education cannot stop at the end of orientation week, but must be continued throughout a student’s four years. Sexual violence at Brown is not a slew of isolated incidents. To truly tackle sexual violence, the university must invest in dismantling rape culture at every level. Survivors at Brown deserve and should be given transparency, accountability, justice, and advocacy by the administration. 

Myself and many of my women and femme friends have witnessed and experienced gender-based harassment and violence at Brown first hand. The problem pervades many environments, whether in interactions at parties or power dynamics in class. My experiences with sexual violence have intersected with my non-binary identity and my queerness in insidious ways. The Instagram account Voices of Brown provides clear evidence of the impact gender based violence has on the Brown community, detailing hundreds of harrowing accounts. 

The administration has a hand in these interactions; without adequate prevention education and a reporting system that can be retraumatizing, the issue of sexual violence is often experienced and treated as if it is inevitable. The epidemic is so widespread and unrelenting, that it is easily swept under the rug of  the ‘college experience.’ And, like all pandemics, sexual violence on campus is not Brown specific. Accounts like Voices of Brown have popped up at schools across the country, and the activists who run them have joined the University Survivors Movement, a coalition of student advocates at universities across America, asking their administrations for support and action so that we, and those students who come after us, can survive college.

The current one-time consent trainings for first-years are not enough. These trainings should include an emphasis on bystander intervention. Students should be able to give their crucial input on the education resources freshman undergo; the university should invest in a thorough study of the efficacy of these resources in order to improve them. Educational programs like SAPE and SHAG are incredible resources made up of capable student educators and dedicated BWell staff, but unfortunately lack necessary funding and support to do their work. SAPE and SHAG should be better supported by the university so that they can provide the education they are extremely qualified to give to students willing to learn. 

Survivors are not supported enough. The current resources on campus should be made transparent. Survivors should be informed whether a resource is confidential (like SHARE advocates), and resources should be displayed in a central hub which is easy to access. If the university put the effort into publicizing these resources, survivors would be more able to get the help they need. Survivors should be able to re-register for classes, choose housing far from their perpetrator, and have access to accommodations without being forced to report and put themselves in more mental and physical danger. Getting justice should not be re-traumatizing or harmful. The Transformative Justice initiative at Brown should be amply funded and supported so that survivors can have access to non-carceral and non-punitive justice. 

Today, admitting they caused harm can be used against the perpetrator in a formal resolution at another time, essentially turning the process back into a punitive one and going against Transformative Justice tenets.  Brown can do better, and more. I am well aware of the areas in which Brown is limited by federal regulation, especially by the recent Devos mandates which have made being a college survivor that much harder. For example, Title IX must include cross-examination, a process in which a survivor is interrogated about the incident. But Brown is an incredibly powerful institution; the university has spoken up at the national level before. I want to see the Brown administration at hearings in D.C., advocating for their students on the federal level. 

However, before anything can happen, Brown must admit there is a problem on campus. Survivors are constantly asked to prove themselves to a world whose first instinct is to distrust and delegitimize. Brown University must admit that this is a prevalent issue, that it happens to so many people, that no survivor is alone and that something can and must be done. I’ve joined an incredible coalition of Brown student groups and student activists called End Sexual Violence @ Brown that has been a support system and a source of hope. Brown has a long history of ignoring student initiatives and activism, as evident by their disregard for recent referendums like Brown Divest and Universal Pass. Universities should feel responsible for the safety and well-being of their student bodies and their students’ bodies. In April, we will protest to demand that survivors be supported, and that the university be transparent and accountable. We hope you’ll join us.