September 20, 2012

At Day Hall, Protesters Criticize Cornell Reaction to Reported Sexual Attacks

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Seated cross-legged on the pavement, arms linked, forming a barrier that spread across the entrance of Day Hall, students sat in silence Thursday afternoon. They carried signs urging passersby to “join us if you condemn hate crimes” and “join us if you fight rape culture.” Every two minutes, someone blew a horn –– a symbol reminding the crowd that every two minutes, someone in the United States becomes the victim of a sexual assault, organizers of the protest said.

The sit-in attracted about 25 protesters and was organized by a group of students who call themselves the Assembly for Justice, according to Raechel Blumenthal ’13, one of the protesters. Formed in May as a response to an attack that occurred at the Sigma Pi fraternity, the coalition protested what it called the administration’s inadequate response to recent sexual crimes on and near campus –– including a rape, a sexual assault and a forcible touching incident that occurred within hours of one another on Sept. 2.

“[After the attacks], the administration told us to lock our windows, lock our doors and take self-defense classes, and did nothing to address the fact that there is a … serious issue surrounding rape culture on our campus,” said Shiliu Wang ’13, one of the protesters. “They need to take initiative and be responsible for addressing that institutional view, structurally, as opposed to having the onus be on the victims.”

At the protest, students distributed a list of seven demands they presented to the administration Wednesday, including the implementation of mandatory sexual violence prevention training for incoming students and training on “all aspects of sexual violence” for University administrators, faculty and staff.

While responsive to their requests for increased dialogue between students and administrators, Susan Murphy ’73 Ph.D. ’94, vice president of student and academic services, said she finds the demands difficult to address in terms of changes to University policy.

“As [the demands] are presented, I would be hard-pressed to determine how I would respond,” Murphy said. “Personally, I don’t think [they are clear].”

Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students, emphasized the need for increased understanding among student leaders about the progress that the University has already made to address crimes on campus.

“We need to have a conversation with the community about what we’ve already done over the past couple of years. We’ve done an awful lot,” Hubbell said. “Some significant fraction of these demands have been met, but others haven’t and that will take time.”

Blumenthal echoed Hubbell’s call for increased communication between the administration and students.

“The idea behind [the protest] is transparency,” she said. “We don’t know what response is being developed to the violent racial and sexual attacks that have occurred on our campus.”

While Murphy said the University has made strides to tackle discrimination on campus –– citing the Leadership Roundtable created by Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, to encourage dialogue among student leaders –– she acknowledged that there is still a significant way to go.

“There are things that are underway as we speak,” she said. “It’s not a single issue and not a fixed issue. Do I think we’ve solved the problem? Absolutely not. It’s a societal issue we have to continue to work on.”

But Wang also maintained that some of the steps the administration has taken thus far to respond to the recent crimes will prove ineffective over time.

“Taking self-defense classes is not going to stop you from getting raped,” she said. “But if you systemically address that issue among all your students, there is a better chance of that happening.”

Murphy said she will meet with students, President Skorton and vice president of human resources Mary Opperman on Friday to discuss how to best address the protesters’ demands.

“I know some of the students and I have a sense of who they are,” she said. “We can work to see what are some actionable items” on the list of demands.

Hubbell emphasized the need for “civility” on the part of both students and administrators as they work toward finding solutions.

“We need to be respectful. We need to be there for one another,” he said. “In the future, we’ll have other kinds of programs to reinforce this [idea] throughout the semester.”

Blumenthal said she was optimistic that the protest would prove effective in communicating students’ demands to administrators.

“We hope to create a dialogue with the administration so we can begin to see action and real change on our campus,” she said. “I think you’ll see a lot more of the Assembly for Justice going forward.”

Correction: Due to information inaccurately provided to The Sun, a previous version of this story incorrectly reported the name of one of the Day Hall protesters. Her name was Raechel Blumenthal ’13, not Rachel Bradford ’13.

Original Author: Kerry Close