UP community looks forward after The Wallys
Members of the University of Portland community nearly filled Buckley Center Auditorium on Thursday night for the event "Reaffirming Pilot Values: Assessing Rape Culture, Sexism, and Misogyny." The student-led event, hosted by Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), Service and Justice coordinators (SJCs) and the Feminist Discussion Group, was announced Wednesday morning in response to the made at the fifth annual Wally Awards Sunday night.
University President Fr. Mark Poorman was in attendance as well as other UP priests, faculty and staff, including new women’s soccer coach Michelle French. Women made up an overwhelming majority of the audience. French and rowing head coach Pasha Spencer were the only coaches or athletics administrators to attend. However, Vice President for Athletics Scott Leykam has been out of town since before the Sunday event, caring for a terminally ill family member.
As people entered the auditorium, they were given a Green Dot sticker, an index card and an sticker. When the speeches were done, everyone was asked to write a plan of action or commitment on their Green Dot sticker and stick it on a banner at the front of the room.
Despite the turbulence of the past week, the auditorium buzzed with positive energy. Many were surprised by the turnout.
“I’m really pleased with the turnout because I didn’t think there would be that many people before dead week and finals,” junior Hannah Roxas said. “I’m really proud that this is a student-led thing. I thought it was really awesome that it was the students that made this happen.”
Other students in the audience reacted positively to the event, expressing approval for what was said and the immediacy of the event.
“I thought having perspectives from faculty and staff as well as from students was a great way to introduce this whole topic to the campus,” junior Simon Huang said. “Since there’s more happening next week with the student forum, I thought that this was a good opening to let people speak up and confront the situation.”
The speeches were introduced by Feminist Discussion Group president and It’s On Us captain Sabrina Bernaldo-Olmedo and SASA co-founder and It’s On Us captain Maddie Hansen.
Speakers included psychology professor Sarina Saturn, Villa Maria Hall SJC and future Villa RA Tom Bornhop, SJC program manager Irene Routte, women’s rowing coach Pasha Spencer-Levitan, Kenna Hall SJC and ASUP president-elect Sitara Nath, and SASA president and It’s On Us representative Abby Sherman.
The speakers’ main focus was not on the events of the Wallys but how UP can move forward as a community.
“In no way am I asking you to forget what happened on campus,” Sherman said. “I ask that we use all this unbridled energy that is within ourselves in this room tonight to help construct a dialogue and create productive physical and tangible change.”
In the first of the speeches, Saturn urged students to not get caught up in the specifics of Sunday night’s events and warned that finger-pointing “puts up walls.” She mentioned that the history of patriarchal societies and oppression of women goes back thousands of years and is deeply ingrained in our culture. Saturn explained that although strides have been made in the last century, we still have a very long way to go.
“After all, shit makes great fertilizer,” Saturn said.
Saturn said she believes that leaders at UP need to do a better job at dismantling oppressive and problematic elements in our culture.
“I feel like my colleagues and I have an ethical responsibility to instill a strong set of values in everyone here, to calibrate our moral compasses to knowing what is right and what is wrong, and to not hesitate to intervene when witnessing problematic situations,” Saturn said.
Bornhop followed Saturn’s speech with a short but sweet message. As a bystander intervention captain for SASA, Bornhop urged students to intervene and stop a situation when they see someone being impacted in a negative way. He also encouraged students to be better allies by listening to those that have been hurt or negatively impacted by our culture.
As the only male speaker of the evening, Bornhop addressed the disparity in males and females in attendance.
“I would like to address the men in the room,” Bornhop said. “I’m grateful for you who showed up tonight, but notice how few of us there are. That’s embarrassing and sad. We as men have the unique privilege of being able to speak out and not be criticized as much as others. It’s on us to call out problematic behavior.”
Routte followed Bornhop and asked the audience to reflect on their privilege and the roles they play in their communities.
“We need to be honest with the ways you have agency, the ways you have the responsibility to intervene for others and where you can use your privilege and power actively or call on others to use their privilege actively,” Routte said.
Routte also expressed the importance of the 5 D’s of bystander intervention: Distract, Direct, Delay, Delegate and Document. She pressed for students, staff and faculty to be active bystanders and to stand up for the people in their community.
“If you’re not standing up for the people that you actually think are in community with you, then who are you standing up for?” Routte said.
Spencer-Levitan opened up her speech by sharing her experiences on the rowing team at the University of Washington where she said she experienced “equality and appreciation” from her male and female peers. Spencer-Levitan is in her 21st year of coaching and fifth year at UP.
“When I stepped onto the UP campus in the summer of 2013, I knew it was a special place,” Spencer-Letivan said. “Everyone I met was friendly and engaging. Any time I’ve needed help there’s been someone there to help me.”
Spencer-Levitan expressed her love for the UP community and her job, describing her rowers as strong, independent and intelligent young women.
“I believe that there is something innate in the type of person that’s attracted to UP that encourages them to come together and work hard towards a finding a solution,” Spencer-Levitan said. “I feel it. I know it’s there.”
Nath’s speech demanded that UP recommit to upholding Pilot values.
“It can be easy to put this responsibility solely on our leaders, and we expect a lot out of them,” Nath said. “But consider what our beloved UP community would look like if that responsibility to honor Pilot values, to be an active bystander, to do something, was maintained and met by every single one of us?”
The final speaker, Sherman, walked the audience through the graphics depicted on the screen behind her, explaining the different aspects of rape culture and the steps that need to be taken when a community is being called to create change.
Sherman shared that she had a lot of emotions this past week including anger and confusion, but she knew the emotions would remain with her unless she did something about it.
“Look how many people are here who want to see change and are actively doing something about it,” Sherman said. “The change has already begun and I can feel it here in this room. Spoiler alert, UP, your true colors are showing tonight.”
In addition to the Reaffirming Pilot Values event, Student Affairs and ASUP will be hosting a student forum on the quiet side of the Commons on Tuesday April 24 from 6 to 7 p.m.