CONTENT WARNING: sexual assault
Students, speakers and campus activists gathered outside the Rowe building on Wednesday, following a school-wide class walkout, to protest the University of Connecticut’s response to sexual assault allegations and to show support to survivors of sexual assault.
Student-led organization PowerUp UConn was the main organizer of the walkout, with UConn Collaborative Organizing, UConn UNCHAIN, Revolution Against Rape and UConn Praxis helping facilitate it.
On Thursday, Feb. 3, student Alexandra Docken stood alone in the rain outside the Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education to share her experience and raise awareness. Protests began in response the day after on Friday, Feb. 4, in the Student Union, and there was a second protest held on Monday, Feb. 7, also outside Rowe.
Skyler MacDuff, a second-semester animal science major, hails from California and had hoped to enroll in a safe school where she could find comfortable spaces to make friends. She said supporting your friends and speaking out is important, but further action needs to be taken and resources provided.
“I come here, and it’s extremely disappointing that everyone here is going through such similar circumstances as I did back at home. I’m paying so much money to be on a safe campus and we need to be doing extra steps to make everyone feel comfortable,” MacDuff said at the protest. “I’m doing the best I can to support my friends but I do think there needs to be more steps taken with the police. I do feel [Emergency Blue Light Boxes] is kind of a pointless thing, it’s not going to help in the moment when you might be feeling scared to speak up.”
Kamala Chuss, a second-semester marine science major, said students don’t feel safe on campus because of UConn’s lacking support of victims and accountability for perpetrators.
“It doesn’t make us feel safe when cases are reported and they’re not investigated and nothing is done about them. It’s just continuing the problem and allowing rapists to rape. It’s worse for the survivors because they have to see the perpetrators every single day, making the victims feel unsafe. We feel like we have to act a certain way to not get raped,” Chuss said at the protest.
Hannah Pierson, a fourth-semester nursing major and vice president of the UConn organization Revolution Against Rape, said her organization chose a walkout over a formal protest because skipping class would show how seriously people take sexual assault on campus. She said it was a scramble to organize the events, formulate chants and gather speakers because RAR wanted to rely on the student body for support to ensure it was the students’ protest, not just an advocacy group’s protest.
Pierson said there can be pressure within student advocacy because advocates are full-time students balancing academics with trying to create change and achieve social goals, which can be hard to continually ask of people.
“A lot of our members have their own personal experiences, which can be hard to deal with. People from our club who spoke Monday and today, it’s very scary for them to share their stories, so there’s a lot of discussion and support to make sure we’re doing okay and aren’t becoming burnt out from the work we’re doing,” Pierson said.
The main change RAR members want to see on campus is more survivor support-focused resources which aren’t directly linked to the university. Pierson also said the Blue Light System is unreliable, with some locations not working.
“We want to see the relocation of funds for more mental health resources for trauma survivors. And, instead of discouraging people from investigating, we want a quicker process for reporting where the victim doesn’t have to keep recounting their story multiple times,” Pierson said.
Despite the scramble to show solidarity to Docken’s silent protest, she and the rest of RAR are working to continue the momentum for change on UConn’s campus.
“We are planning on having our finalized demands out by the weekend, we are just taking our time so we do it correctly. We don’t have concrete plans right now but they will be coming, this will not be stopping. We are not going to let UConn forget about this,” Pierson said.
PowerUp UConn, the main organizer of the walkout, said the organization is far from finished when it comes to advocacy against sexual violence. Members are grateful for the show of solidarity they saw outside Rowe.
“Organizing against sexual violence, rape culture and other issues that plague our university will continue, and we will do so as a community. We will not accept closed door promises, performative stunts and meaningless policy that fail to solve the root of many issues,” said PowerUp UConn founders Jadah Smith, a fourth-semester marketing and global studies double major; Michael Christy, a former UConn student and Denardia Amfo, a sixth-semester human development and family sciences major in a statement posted to the club’s Instagram page.
Resources for victims:
- National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673 (Available 24 Hours)
- Student Health Services (Confidential) 860-486-4700 (24 Hours)
- Counseling & Mental Health Services (Confidential) 860-486-4705 (24 Hours)
- Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence (Confidential) 888-999-5545 (24 Hours)
- Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline (Confidential) 888-774-2900 (24 Hours)