Students lined pathways in front of The Commons Friday night to stand in solidarity with sexual assault victims on campus and express discontent with the student conduct process as guests arrived for the University of Portland’s annual Christmas dinner for donors.
This subject came into the spotlight and campus conversation last week after freshman Clara Ell took issue with the treatment of her own sexual assault conduct hearing earlier in the semester via a widely-circulated email.
Although there was ice on the ground and it rained nearly the entire time, students stood outside from 5-6:30 p.m., many with purple tape over their mouths or holding signs that said #SpeakUp. One group of students even carried a mattress with them, reminiscent of the student protest at Columbia University in 2015.
“The gist of it is about reforming the policy,” sophomore and protest participant Ian Saner said. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ this will happen again, (sexual assault) is a thing that is going to happen, but if we improve the way it’s dealt with, that’s a success.”
Though many donors did not walk through the demonstrations because they were shuttled to the front door of The Commons, two delegated students handed out fliers to donors as they arrived at the event.
“We as students of the University of Portland are here protesting the way our University addresses sexual assault cases,” the flier reads. “Please know that this protest is not targeted at you. We appreciate your continued support of our growth and education. As you continue to support our University, we ask you to consider what exactly you are supporting. Do your values align with those the University demonstrates?”
Sophomore Emma Covert, one of the students handing out fliers until they were instructed by administrators to leave the entrance of The Commons, said she felt donors were receptive of the protest.
“They definitely wanted information and specifics on the reform we are asking for,” Covert said. “Several ladies in particular wanted to know what they could do to push for this change.”
Specifically, students were asking for clear information about how the student conduct board determines when someone is too intoxicated to consent to sex, student advocates to be assigned to victims reporting sexual assault through the Title IX process at UP and a paid, full-time Title IX coordinator.
Friday’s protest followed a “stand-in” event Thursday night, when representatives from student organizations spoke about resources for sexual assault victims and participants came up with desired “action plans” for how the University should respond to sexual assault.
Following the protest, students gathered in St. Mary’s to warm up with hot chocolate and debrief.
“I think we did a really good job of pulling together tonight,” junior Sadie Schroeter said. “I think especially that we managed to all stay quiet while Christmas music played from The Commons as donors arrived — I think it spoke volumes. It felt very unified.”