Hopkins affiliates gathered in front of CharMar on Nov. 8 for the Not My Campus protest, which focused on the University’s handling of sexual assault. The organizers estimated that 100 to 150 affiliates attended.
The protest was organized in light of the University’s response to the recent alleged drugging incident at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house. In its original email to the student body, the University included tips for preventing oneself from getting drugged, which many felt was victim-blaming. On Nov. 5, University administrators sent a follow-up email apologizing for this language.
Protesters walked through campus holding signs and participating in chants. The event culminated in a candlelight vigil for survivors of sexual assault on the Beach, as well as an open discourse where participants were welcomed to share personal experiences.
Junior Shubha Verma, one of the organizers of the protest, discussed how the University’s email inspired her to get involved in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I was pretty taken aback and shocked that the language placed the blame on the victim and all victims of these inappropriate drugging and sexual assault acts on campus,” she said.
Sophomore Sai Dharmasena, another organizer, began the protest by listing some of the demands of the protesters, which included overhauling the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and the Counseling Center, maintaining permanent records for perpetrators and providing greater support for survivors.
Dharmasena feels the systems currently in place puts undue burden on survivors.
“The main problem of admin here is that the survivor of the sexual assault has to go through so much more work on top of the actual assault that happened in order for them to get any justice,” she said. “Why should I be assaulted and then go through this bureaucratic mess? It’s literally another four-credit class.”
Dharmasena also created a survey for students to share their encounters with the University’s support resources. The majority of students reported positive encounters with the Center for Health Education and Well-Being (CHEW), while the Counseling Center and OIE received largely negative feedback.
In an email to The News-Letter, Vice President for Communications Andrew Green described the University’s initiatives to improve its response to incidents of sexual assault.
“We have taken a number of steps in recent years to improve the University’s efforts to respond to reports of sexual assault, including increasing staffing in the OIE office, enhancing OIE’s website with detailed FAQs and other resources, and developing protocols that improve the efficiency of OIE’s processes while maintaining high standards for investigations and findings,“ he wrote.
Under the pseudonym Peggy, one protest attendee discussed her experience as a survivor of sexual assault in an interview with The News-Letter. Peggy felt that the University’s response to the recent intentional drugging discourages survivors from coming forward.
“I didn't [report it] before [and] I especially don't want to anymore because of how the University handled the alleged drugging case,” she said. “They made it seem very much like it was the victim's fault. Hearing the language used in the email made it feel like if I were to report it, I would not be believed... and it wasn't worth it to go through with the process.”
Peggy elaborated on the lack of support for survivors on campus.
“When I first enrolled here, [people] were very sex-positive in that they were able to just talk about safe sex and consent and not make it an awkward or taboo topic,” she said. “Seeing the responses to [incidents] makes me wonder how much the school actually cares about their students versus their public face. It's just really frustrating going into something that I thought was going to be a primarily safe space, and it ended up being not as safe as I thought.”
Peggy explained that she attended the protest to show support and solidarity for other survivors.
“Even though I'm not reporting [the sexual assault], maybe my presence and my voice will help someone else in a situation similar to mine and help them feel like it's okay to be okay to report it because they will be believed,” she said.
During the protest, Dharmasena described her past personal experiences of sexual assault and how she has noticed a similar lack of accountability on campus.
“The fact that I have to come to this University and the same damn thing is happening to so many students is absurd,” she said. “We should not have to live for fear, regardless of where we go on campus... that we might be assaulted.”
Verma reflected on the opportunity the event created for survivors to share their experiences. She hopes that even if direct change does not ensue, the participants and people who saw or heard about it felt supported by their fellow students.
Verma was pleasantly surprised at the event’s high turnout and the diversity of participants.
“I saw people of all ethnicities and genders, and there were people holding each other's hands and hugging, and it was the first time in my entire Hopkins experience that I've seen students come together to support a cause — and to have it be fully student organized was amazing,” she said.
In an email with The News-Letter, Dharmasena agreed that the protest was successful in that students got the attention of the University administration as well as the local community.
Dharmasena noted that some University administrators have contacted her to discuss concerns raised at the protest.
“Some deans and Alyse Campbell from CHEW have reached out and we’re setting up meetings soon. I expect there to be some resistance as we are demanding big changes, but I think it’s imperative that they listen to us,” she wrote. “I would like to see... an administration that takes [sexual assault] seriously while employing an informed and empathetic mindset.”
The demands were laid out in a letter with recommendations for policy changes, which is open for all to sign and send to University leaders.
In his email, Green said that the University plans to work with the protesters.
“We welcome the engagement and feedback from our students on this important issue, and we have offered to meet with the organizers of Monday’s demonstration so that they can share more specifics about their concerns,” he wrote. “We hope to work together to ensure Johns Hopkins University is a safe and inclusive environment for everyone.”