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The Bruno Brief: The students protesting Brown’s handling of sexual assault

By , and
THE BRUNO BRIEF TEAM
Wednesday, February 17, 2021

In this week’s episode of The Bruno Brief, we take a look at recent student activism against the University’s handling of sexual misconduct on campus, in light of a protest taking place last week as part of the University Survivors Movement. We talk to senior staff writer Karlos Bautista ’23.5, who reported on the protests, and investigations editor Oliva George ’22, who situates the demonstration in the broader context of student efforts to illuminate the impact of sexual assault at Brown. 

Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or listen via the RSS feed, and send us tips and feedback for the next episode: herald@browndailyherald.com. The Bruno Brief is produced in partnership with WBRU.

Ben Glickman 

I’m Ben Glickman, and you’re listening to The Bruno Brief, from The Brown Daily Herald and WBRU. Each week, we take you inside one of The Brown Daily Herald’s top stories. A quick content note for our listeners: This episode contains discussion of sexual misconduct and assault.

Last weekend, student organizers from the University Survivors Movement, a coalition that aims to pressure colleges and universities to take direct action to end sexual violence on campuses, put up flyers all around Brown’s campus. We’re joined by Karlos Bautista (’23.5), a senior staff writer for The Herald who covered this story, and investigations editor Olivia George (’22), who reported on activism on this topic in the fall. Karlos and Olivia, thanks for being with us.

Olivia George 

Thanks for having me.

Karlos Bautista 

Thanks for having me.

Ben Glickman 

So Karlos, can you read to us what these posters said?

Karlos Bautista 

Yeah, sure. So, the posters say, “Brown University has a sexual violence problem, and our administration doesn’t care.”

Ben Glickman 

That’s a pretty strong critique of the University. Who are the organizers behind this protest and these posters, and can you tell us a little bit about what their goal is? 

Karlos Bautista 

The organizers of this protest are the University Survivors Movement. They are a coalition of student activists and survivors across the nation that want to pressure college and university administrations to take more action against sexual assault on their respective campuses. Yeah, and so the two organizers I spoke with specifically are Carter Woodruff, class of ’21.5, and Amelia Wyckoff, class of ’22.

Ben Glickman 

This isn’t the first action of protests that Woodruff and Wyckoff have taken to expose the prevalence of sexual violence at Brown. They were also involved in the Instagram account Voices of Brown, which gained prominence late summer, which gives survivors of sexual violence a platform to tell their stories. Olivia, for background, can you tell us about this Instagram account Voices of Brown?

Olivia George 

Sure. So, Voices of Brown was founded last summer. Students and alums were invited to submit their accounts of sexual assault and harassment to be posted anonymously on this Instagram page, and accounts like this were popping up across the country and around the world. And in the months that followed, dozens of people submitted their stories and the Voices of Brown team grew quite dramatically.

Ben Glickman 

In your piece, you reference past instances of activism around sexual violence. Can you tell us a little bit about that past activism on campus?

 Olivia George 

Students have been protesting what they deem University inaction on the issue of sexual assault for many years — indeed, many decades. In the piece, I reference an incident that happened in the fall of 1990, during which the names of alleged rapists were written in marker pen on the walls of bathroom cubicles and one of the libraries on campus. And it became known as this so-called “rape list,” and it actually ended up making national headlines. In 2015, for example, there was a large protest. I think by some estimates, 400 students gathered and protested what they saw as the University’s mishandling of a sexual assault case that involved reported drugging of female students at a fraternity party.

 Ben Glickman 

Olivia, that protest that you told us about, the “rape list” — that happened nearly three decades ago. What has changed since then?

Olivia George 

So by a lot of measures, quite a few things have changed. The University now has a Title IX office. Sexual assault and harassment are explicitly mentioned on the Code of Student Conduct. Incoming undergraduate students and graduate students are required to participate in an online tutorial of sorts that covers bystander intervention as well as University rules on the topic, regulations, resources, those types of things. When I was writing my piece back at the end of last year, Brian Clark, the University spokesperson, wrote that for campuses nationwide, Brown included, few issues are as pressing as preventing and responding to incidents of sexual assault, and he wanted to stress the steps that the University has taken in recent years to prevent future harm. Rene Davis from the Title IX office also stressed that in recent years, the University has worked to better educate the campus community about Title IX and what options are available to them through Title IX. Results from the Annual Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey at Brown demonstrated that these efforts are gradually improving students’ perceptions of sexual assault as a problem, their knowledge of resources and also their confidence in the University’s approach to supporting individuals. When we reviewed the report in 2019, just over a fifth of students reported having little or no knowledge about where to find help with issues related to sexual misconduct.

Ben Glickman 

Can you tell us about the impact that Voices of Brown specifically has had?

Olivia George 

I think it’s a little bit hard to quantify. At this point in time, over 100 people have shared their accounts on the anonymous Instagram page. And the admin. students that run the Instagram page have really been using it as a platform for sharing resources about the kinds of services that are available to a student on campus. But I think it’s difficult to speak in kind of broader terms at this moment in time. I do know that a lot of the people involved in Voices of Brown have expressed frustration and a feeling that the University isn’t necessarily listening to their experiences, or listening to their concerns. But one thing that the Voices of Brown staffers are working on is collaborating with other student groups, including sports teams on campus, for example. Last fall, they launched a year-long partnership with the crew team, in an effort to kind of shift party culture and those types of things and better educate members of our campus community about these issues.

Ben Glickman 

So Karlos, now that Olivia has given us some context about Voices of Brown and past protests around sexual violence on campus, tell us more about this protest that happened last week. How did you get wind of this story?

Karlos Bautista 

So I found out about this protest from a Facebook post from Wyckoff that was posted in the week leading up to the weekend where organizers from the University Survivors Movement, they gave out posters to students interested in participating on Faunce steps, so that it happened on Saturday and Sunday.

Ben Glickman 

What was the impetus for Wyckoff and Woodruff to do this now, this protest?

Karlos Bautista 

Well, it’s the — as you know — the early part of the semester, and they figured that while things wouldn’t change dramatically after this protest, that this protest would serve as a sort of stepping stone to further action, for the semester and also beyond.

Ben Glickman 

Here’s Carter Woodruff in an interview with Karlos.

Carter Woodruff

This isn’t just an unsolvable issue that people need to understand exists. There are really concrete ways in which we can reduce sexual violence on campus, we can better support survivors and we can improve our internal justice systems. It has been a deliberate choice on the part of administrations not to prioritize this prevalent and chronic crisis on campus. We will protest over and over and over again, and we will do everything we can to convince the administration that they need to start paying attention to this.

Ben Glickman 

Could you tell us about when this organization got started, and maybe a little bit more about what their mission is?

Karlos Bautista 

They started organizing around the summer. So, there was a lot of communication with other student activists across the nation coinciding with Voices of Brown. And in terms of why they decided to focus nationally, Amelia and Carter told me that there’s a lot at stake for an institution like Brown to really address an issue like sexual violence when if, you know, you’re the first institution or university or college to make such a drastic step, there’s not a lot of other places to look to for examples. But if you have multiple college campuses, university campuses, taking steps at the same time it, you know, it makes it easier for an institution to make similar decisions.

Ben Glickman 

So can you tell us more about how it is a national movement? I mean, were there protests from this organization at other schools that coincided with the one from last week?

Karlos Bautista 

There were quite a few. There was a protest at Boston University where they had posters put up with the same sort of design with just with a slightly different message, claiming that “Boston University has a rape problem.” And then also at (Washington University in St. Louis), where protesters there posted up flyers that said that “Wash U has a consent problem.” And there are also protests, according to Amelia and Carter, at Arizona State University or planned ones, Arizona State University and the University of Notre Dame, for example, to name a few.

Ben Glickman 

I want to talk about the statistics that we have around sexual violence on Brown’s campus. How many instances of sexual violence were there reported in the past year? 

Karlos Bautista 

Right, yeah. So the Title IX office every year has an Annual Outcome Report, and they track the number of allegations of sexual misconduct filed to the Title IX office. So for 2019-20, there were 109 allegations. The year before, there were 104. In 2017-18, there were 92 allegations, but that’s an increase from 59 in 2016-17.

Ben Glickman 

So it seems like it’s going up over time, in terms of Title IX incidents reported, at least. Do you think that that trend indicates anything about what’s happening with sexual violence on campus? 

Karlos Bautista 

It’s hard to say exactly, just because we don’t know if the rise in reported cases of sexual misconduct are due to more instances of sexual violence occurring on campus, or if more members of the community are comfortable reporting as the years go on.

Ben Glickman 

I want to touch on what the University says in response to these criticisms of its treatment of sexual violence on campus. Can you tell us the University’s point of view on this?

Karlos Bautista 

Right, yeah. So kind of what Olivia mentioned in terms of the actions they’ve taken. So they’ve created a Title IX office, and University spokesman Brian Clark wrote this to me an email. He also talked about different initiatives taken on campus to educate undergraduate students and faculty. And while those numbers from the campus climate survey are, as Brian Clark wrote, “sobering,” he says that there’s been a marked change in terms of University students’ perception of sexual assault as a problem on campus and confidence in how the University supports and resolves complaints, as Olivia mentioned. According to the AAU survey in 2019, 22.1 percent of students believe that sexual misconduct is very or extremely problematic on campus as according to the survey. And 66.4 percent of students believe that is very or extremely likely that campus officials would take a report of sexual assault or misconduct seriously.

Ben Glickman 

What actions do Woodruff and Wyckoff, and more broadly, the organization that they’re part of, want to see from the University?

Karlos Bautista 

They said that they want more transparency, accountability and support from University leadership. In thinking of specific things, if you remember almost what seems like eons ago, we, as first years had some sort of consent training, or sexual misconduct prevention training — whether that was through an online module or through a training during orientation. They’re hoping to see trainings more regularly take place, so that way students participate in them every semester, and to have accountability measures for those who fail to participate in such trainings, for example, have penalties reflected on their student records for missing a training. And they’re hoping to, you know, have more regular conversations with the University as opposed to maybe once a year or once every few years. They were hoping to have semester by semester communications with University leadership. And then another thing too they’re talking about was that while they feel that the University’s response overall to sexual violence on campus has been inadequate, they still think that there are resources and support programs on campus that are helpful for students. So thinking about the Title IX office and also BWell sexual harassment and assault resources and education advocates. And so they want the University, in whatever capacity they can, to provide more funding for programs in the Title IX office generally.

Ben Glickman 

Here’s Amelia Wyckoff in an interview with Karlos,

Amelia Wyckoff 

I want to see transparency and accountability and support. Like I want to see the University own up to this problem and to open up a conversation and to allow survivors and any student who wants to have their voice heard to give them direct feedback. I think survivors should be able to drop classes with the perpetrators, I think they should be able to do all of that without any repercussions. I think their identities should be protected by the University. I don’t think they should be afraid to report all of these things. And also transparency — like, I want them to admit it. I want them to admit what’s happening on this campus. One of the things that’s so hard about being a survivor is that you have to tell people and it’s scary and it feels like making yourself so vulnerable and there’s something shameful about it. I guess that’s internalized victim blaming. I want the University to say this is a problem. It’s widespread. It happens to so many people.

Ben Glickman 

Olivia, Karlos, thanks for being with us.

Karlos Bautista 

Thanks for having us.

Olivia George 

Thank you.

Corey Gelb-Bicknell

In other news, the Ivy League announced last week that fourth-year senior student athletes who have lost playing time due to COVID-19-related cancellations in their final year of sports eligibility can continue playing their varsity sport for next year’s season if they’re accepted to enroll as a graduate student at their current institution. That means that next year, you might see some grad students on the Brown Bears. 

This has been the Bruno Brief. Our show is produced by Livi Burdette, Ben Glickman and me. The Bruno Brief is an equal partnership between WBRU and The Brown Daily Herald. I’m Corey Gelb-Bicknell. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

____________________

Produced by: Olivia Burdette, Ben Glickman and Corey Gelb-Bicknell

Music: 

Denzel Sprak by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue)

Silent Flock by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue)

 

Special thanks to Emily Teng and Olivia Burdette for cover design.

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