Opinion: Why We’re Demanding Better
Amelia Hillier is a University of Portland alumnus ('16).
In the weeks since the Wallys there have been many opinions written about what happened. Many people have been angry. Many have called for action. Most are upset with how things were handled. Some however, have looked at it from a different angle. They’ve questioned why more students in attendance didn’t take action. Some have encouraged us all to take action in situations like this and not just rely on people in power like University of Portland President Fr. Mark Poorman and other members of the University of Portland administration to step in. Some people have even praised UP for the steps they took later and said it was enough.
It’s not enough. It wasn’t enough.
The Wallys were not an isolated incident. The Wallys were a tipping point in a kettle that was already about ready to boil over. In my time at UP, I knew many courageous young women who were affected in some way by the inaction of UP's administration. Being able to look at what happened and simply say “we can all do better” is a privilege, one that many of the people who are demanding action do not have. Olivia Sanchez, who felt scared and outraged by the sexual remarks made in a public place, didn’t have that privilege. Rachel Rippetoe, who heard Provost Dr. Thomas Greene immediately invalidate Fr. Poorman's efforts by making a completely inappropriate comment at the Academic Senate meeting, didn’t have that privilege. Clara Ell, who was sexually assaulted in 2016 and then told by administration it was her fault, didn’t have that privilege. Students who have been let down by UP's rules and regulations and have asked the administration for help and guidance did not have that privilege. They could not “do better.” They are already doing the best they can. By saying we can all do better you push some of the responsibility onto the women who are actively being harmed by UP's policies and inaction, onto people who have been asking for help from this administration for years. You are blaming the victim. You are gaslighting them.
Furthermore, we entrust the administration and faculty to guide us when we step onto the UP campus as freshmen. We pay a lot of money to become better people in our time at UP academically, emotionally, and spiritually. The administration plays a key role in that. Of course it is expected that we all do better, but they are the ones that are supposed to show us the way. That is why we are specifically asking them to do better. Why we are saying what they have done is not enough. That is why they are expected to be the first ones to stand and speak up in these situations. Because it is their job. It is the job we pay them to do.
This is also not a UP specific problem. It’s estimated that one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college, and one in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. There are organizations dedicated to reducing this statistic and it’s still not enough. Programs like Green Dot and films like the Hunting Ground help bring awareness to the issues, but if the people in charge are allowing students to get up at awards ceremonies and give sexually explicit speeches, if they are allowing students to get away with sexual assault, if they do nothing, how will that statistic ever get better? As an alumnus I can write all the articles I want, quote all the statistics at my disposal, and make whatever Facebook comments I feel appropriate, but I cannot discipline a student when they do something wrong. I cannot make changes to the policies at UP. I do not have the power that the administration is paid to have.
And to those of you saying we can all do better, look around. There are some amazing women in the UP community that are doing just that. Listen to them. Lift them up. Support them. Because any change that’s coming is because of them. Don’t ask them to do more than what they’re already doing, because they’re already doing a phenomenal job.