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Hundreds of Brown University students protest against sexual violence

What started as an international coalition of sexual violence survivors and their allies has made its way from social media to Brown University’s campus.

End Sexual Violence at Brown, a new student-led organization, held a protest on campus Wednesday. More than 200 students marched to the university president's home, where organizers presented a list of demands, asking the administration to take a tough stand on sexual assault.
End Sexual Violence at Brown, a new student-led organization, held a protest on campus Wednesday. More than 200 students marched to the university president's home, where organizers presented a list of demands, asking the administration to take a tough stand on sexual assault.Lola Hakim/Handout

PROVIDENCE — More than 200 Brown University students decked in shades of pink marched to university President Christina Paxson’s Georgian Revival-styled home on College Hill Wednesday, demanding that the administration take a tougher stand against sexual violence on campus.

“I’ve just been fed up with blame being placed on victims of assault,” first year student Karma Selsey told a Globe reporter, citing a 2014 statement by Paxson that was sent to all members of the Brown community.

The statement said “sexual assault at Brown is not tolerated” but went on to say, “While appropriately addressing incidents is our responsibility, it is also vital as a community that we do everything possible to prevent violence in the first place... And because drug and alcohol abuse is a common factor in many of these cases, we are doing what we can to educate students about this problem.”

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Selsey said the message amounted to “victim blaming by the administration,” and attitudes have not changed since then.

Brown student Ha-Jung Kim, a sexual assault survivor and one of the protest’s organizers, read the group’s demands in front of Paxson’s house using a bullhorn. The group wants the university to launch an anti-sexual violence campaign, improve the existing sexual violence safety policy or implement a new one, partner with a third-party non-profit to oversee the annual campus climate survey, and to provide more training about sexual violence during student orientation programs and implement check-ins for students to demonstrate their understanding of those trainings.

The rally was one of several held on campuses across the country under the direction of the University Survivors Movement, a student-led coalition looking to end sexual violence. Students at many colleges and universities have called on administrators to commit to stronger disciplinary actions against perpetrators and to change the culture around sexual harassment and assault on campus.

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In an open letter written by organizers of Ending Sexual Violence at Brown and sent before Wednesday evening’s rally, students demanded that the administration “put an end to its long history of neglect, apathy, and institutional exacerbation of the chronic public health and safety crisis that is sexual violence at Brown.”

“We should be free to prioritize our academic successes and intellectual inquiries, our jobs and financial wellbeing, our extracurriculars and passion projects, our friends and families, and most importantly, our joy and comfort, without the ever-present threat of sexual violence,” they wrote. “Yet the Brown administration has time and time again forced us to prioritize fighting for our access to the basic right and safety on this campus— a right which the administration’s structurally violent neglect has deprived too many students, both present and past.”

University spokesman Brian Clark told the Globe prior to the demonstration that every element of the university’s approach to preventing and responding to incidents of sexual violence is based on the reality that it’s a serious issue — both on and off college campuses.

“The stories of survivors make this clear, and survey data and studies make this clear. Brown has made it an institutional priority to address this reality, and the experiences and perspective of students and others impacted by sexual violence have been instrumental in informing the actions we’ve taken,” said Clark in a statement. “Through a strategic and sustained approach and the efforts of campus leaders, faculty, staff and students across the University, we have collectively made meaningful change — and our students have reported that we have made meaningful change.”

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Brown put together a Sexual Assault Task Force in 2014, recommendations from which served as the foundation for Brown’s approach. Clark said the university has encouraged a “culture in which community members intervene to prevent incidents, provide support and resources, report misconduct, seek assistance and trust in a fair, impartial process to resolve complaints.”

He said Brown also created a Title IX and Gender Equity Office, “implemented a unified policy on sexual and gender-based violence, trained students, faculty and staff across campus, required education for first-year students, launched and supported peer education programs and advocated on federal policy.”

But organizers of the rally say more needs to be done, and that the Title IX and Gender Equity Office needs more resources and staff.

End Sexual Violence at Brown, a new student-led organization, held a protest on campus Wednesday. More than 200 students marched to the university president's home, where organizers presented a list of demands, asking the administration to take a tough stand on sexual assault.
More than 200 students marched to the university president's home to demand that the administration take a tough stand on sexual assault.Lola Hakim/Handout

Amelia Wyckoff, another rally organizer, had called for the abolition of fraternities, which she said perpetuated “sexism, racism, homophobia, and rape on campus.” She said that many students in the Brown community, and on other college campuses across the country, “are still calling for the abolition of Greek life decades later.”

For a week leading up to the rally, organizers from End Sexual Violence at Brown (ESV) hung more than 2,000 posters, some of which had listed campus resources for survivors. The posters affixed to the Diman House, which houses the fraternity Delta Phi, were torn down. Later in the week, someone covered the “Di” part of the house’s name, so it read “Man House.”

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Delti Phi’s leadership sent a statement to the Globe in which they condemned “any and all actions that contribute to an environment of sexual violence and assault,” and that they have “zero tolerance for such behavior” within the fraternity.

“We quickly identified the perpetrators involved in this incident as one member of Delta Phi and one unaffiliated individual who lives in Diman House. Immediately upon learning the full details of this situation, Delta Phi leadership decided the appropriate action was to permanently expel the culpable member from our group,” read the statement. “We would like to apologize to the individuals that witnessed this, and the greater Brown Community for the abhorrent actions of these two people. In particular, Delta Phi would like to apologize to ESV.”

Carter Woodruff was sitting inside the bedroom she grew up in, across the country in Los Angeles while the rally, which she helped organize, broke out on Brown campus. She told the Globe the she is on leave after an assault by a fellow Brown student; she reported the incident to Brown’s student conduct office, which did offer her resources, but said she was “too terrified” to go through the reporting process with the Title IX office. She said she plans to return to Brown to finish her degree in the fall.

“We want the administration to be held accountable, and admit that the reporting of (sexual violence cases) has not been working,” she said. “I’m not thankful for what happened. But I’m thankful for being able to mobilize with other Brown students, demanding change.”

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.