Campus Survivors Protest University's Sexual Assault Problem
Through snow and below freezing temperatures on the night of Super Bowl LV, 600 Boston University students attended a protest organized by Campus Survivors on Sunday, February 7th hosted in solidarity with national protests hosted by the University Survivor’s Movement. The event took place between 10 P.M. to 1 A.M. as part of a pledge to stand with all student survivors of sexual assault and pressure the university into making crucial reforms.
All students in attendance wore masks and observed social distancing guidelines as per local health ordinances. The protest at Boston University is unlike any other previously organized by students, taking the form of a physical display of chalk and posters all across campus, along with the virtual aspect of a mass email being sent to President Brown, Dean Elmore, Provost Morrison, Dean Battalingo, and the university’s board of trustees. The email contains five demands for the administration:
1. A Public Statement Acknowledging Sexual Assault and Harassment at Boston University.
2. Implement a Zero Tolerance Policy [on harassment and assault] for all Faculty.
3. Implement a Zero Tolerance Policy for all Student Organizations.
4. [Monitor] Anonymous Reporting and [create a] Strike System.
5. Expand the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center’s Resources.
A poster and chalked on message adorn the window of the College of Fine Arts.
Fueling the unprecedented university-wide support of the protest was the over 100 student groups that endorsed these demands and the protest itself, posting the following message to their Instagrams: “We stand with Campus Survivors. Join us.” Numerous student government groups—including the representatives of six college student governments—have condemned the university’s handling of sexual assault and harassment cases.
CAS Student Government claimed “Boston University condones sexual assault” in an Instagram post promoting the event.
When the popular community Instagram page @bu_gigs began posting stories of students who experienced sexual harassment and assault at BU back in April of 2020, they were overwhelmed with submissions from survivors. As soon as @bu_gigs began sharing, the clear need for a larger platform dedicated to this specific issue arose. That’s how the Instagram page and survivor movement now synonymous with anti-sexual violence activism at BU @campus.survivors began. Prisha Sujin Kumar (SAR ‘22), the founder of Campus Survivors along with Yashi Kataria (CAS ‘23) and Sophia Kim (CAS ‘23), has posted two open letters to Boston University. In the letters, she expressed her frustration and pain while going through the process of reporting sexual assault at Boston University.
Prisha Sujin Kumar chalks outside of the George Sherman Union on Sunday night.
Prisha is far from alone in the facing the trauma of both sexual violence and reporting to Boston University. Since Campus Survivor’s creation in May of 2020, over 98 Boston University students and alumni have come forward to share their stories of assault and harassment during their time at BU. Prisha says there are dozens of posts queued up for @campus.survivors and that the number of BU students who have submitted stories stands well over 100.
The protest is not the first time the university has publicly grappled with the issue of sexual assault and rape in recent years. In a notable 2015 rape case that took place in Boston University’s Student Village 2 Dorm, the university was sued by the survivor, Jane Doe, for creating “a false sense of security” when their failure to enforce their own safety policies resulted in her rape. Two MIT students were able to evade security and roam undetected through the halls of StuVi 2, entering 11 rooms, including Jane Doe’s dorm, where one of the trespassers violently assaulted her. The university’s legal team contended that Jane Doe “was given the tools to assure her safety, a door with a sturdy lock, but she elected not to use it,” in their court filing section titled: “The University Made No Definite Or Certain Promise To Keep Students Safe.”
Jane Doe is among over a hundred current university students, according to @campus.survivors, who felt abandoned by BU in the process of reporting.
“Dean Elmore isn’t informed on how trauma affects survivors, which makes the process of reporting more painful than supportive,” Campus Survivors founder Prisha Sujin Kumar said. “The Deans lack empathy and shouldn’t be in charge of this.”
The administration declined to respond to the Boston Political Review, and every single other student organization, for comment.
Students pass Agganis Arena on Sunday night, one of five locations around campus where organizers gave out resources and discussed the protest.
Rape culture has long plagued college campuses, and it is so ingrained in the fabric of college life that challenging it is to challenge the status quo. According to RAINN, 13% of all college students will experience sexual assault, a number that doubles to 26% when looking at undergraduate women. Boston University has been given a "D" due process rating on its sexual misconduct policies by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“We have to continue spreading awareness in order to force BU into a corner they need to be forced into. Otherwise they’re really not going to pay attention to anything,” said Sujin Kumar.
“We still held the event tonight to stand in solidarity with other schools hosting their own events, and we actually got a huge influx of people who signed up to help this afternoon,” said student organizer Gladys B. Vargas (COM ‘22).
The uphill battle to make university campuses safer for all students continues, and Campus Survivors hope the event will spur renewed momentum to bring the significant reforms to Boston University that its student body expects and demands.
Quinn Chappelle and Justin Dynia contributed to this story.