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The Bruno Brief: Diving into advocacy around sexual assault on campus

Continuing with our series on sexual politics, this week we take a look at the scope of sexual assault advocacy on campus. We speak with Rhea Rasquinha, senior staff writer, about her reporting on this and hear from University officials and members of student organizations dedicated to this issue.

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Jacob Smollen

This week, we continue on with our discussion of sexual politics by talking about sexual assault advocacy on campus, past and present. We’ll dive into a 1990s “rape list,” Brown’s Title IX lawsuit and End Sexual Violence — a student organization at Brown which focuses on providing support to survivors of sexual assault and advocating for changes in campus policy. We’re here with Rhea Rasquinha, senior staff writer, who recently reported on this issue. I’m Jacob Smollen. This is the Bruno Brief.

So Rhea, tell me about the history of activism around sexual assault on campus?

Rhea Rasquinha

I’m by no means an expert or very well-versed in the topic, but from the people that I interviewed and other reading and archival coverage, the history is long and extensive. Student activism surrounding sexual violence first garnered national attention in November 1990, and there has been continued organizing since then — and I would imagine before as well. Carter Woodruff ’22.5, one of the founders of ESV, published an open letter with several other contributors detailing a history of student activism in response to continued instances where University policy and responses failed to protect survivors or provide adequate support. Though the cases and organizing efforts are different, the letter highlights a repeating pattern of students pushing for support, resources and attention to the issue when the policies of the time were not enough. 

Jacob Smollen

What was the “rape list,” and why did it make national headlines in the 1990s?

Rhea Rasquinha 

Again, I’m not an expert and there are more details than what I understand of it, but it was a list of names that first appeared on the bathroom walls in the Rock in October 1990. There’s a Herald article that includes interviews with individuals who were at Brown at the time, and Jenn David-Lang ’91, one of the key figures in sexual assault activism then, discussed how women wrote on the walls for a variety of reasons. The walls  included names of men who were alleged rapists, phone numbers for resources and to connect with other women, messages of empowerment and more. It was a way for women to do something when their concerns and reports of sexual assault were ignored. In November 1990, there was a forum attended by University officials and about 350 students, and a New York Times article was published about the forum the next day, which brought the issue of sexual assault on campus and the “rape list” to a national level. David-Lang and other student organizers at the time had an exclusive interview with Phil Donahue after receiving invitations to be on several national talk shows. This interview further brought the issue to the forefront of national news, but it was only after this “rape list” garnered national attention that the University started to make changes. 

Jacob Smollen

And what does organizing against sexual violence look like on campus now?

Rhea Rasquinha

I talked to three members of ESV leadership, which is End Sexual Violence at Brown, the primary group organizing against sexual violence on campus. The organization has evolved from the initial coalition formed in spring 2021 and now has two main teams — policy and survivor support — along with upcoming DEI and finance teams. To briefly summarize what the organization does from our call, they work to provide support to survivors of sexual violence, help connect them to resources, form a community within the group and also critically review current policy to improve campus resources and how cases are handled. 

Chloe Chen

So originally, ESV was just a big coalition. So there are a lot of student groups that kind of signed on to the coalition. And now we've split into two parts. One part is ESV policy. And then one part is ESV survivor support. But our goal this term is to create a peer-to-peer support program kind of matching people one on one, especially for survivors that don't necessarily want to go straight to administration.

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Jacob Smollen

That was Chloe Chen ’24, an ESV survivor support coordinator.      

Rhea Rasquinha

Something else that ESV leadership emphasized was creating non-hierarchical peer partnerships and also a non-hierarchical organizational culture as a whole. The leadership team was established to handle logistics, but anyone can and is welcome to join. 

Over the summer, ESV also organized a mutual aid campaign to support abortion funds. Here’s Michelle Ding, an ESV survivor support coordinator.

Michelle Ding 

And one of the things that we really wanted to focus on in this mutual aid campaign is giving to the different funds that normally don't receive that much support and funding. Like, you'll see the big fundraisers, and they're mostly for Planned Parenthood, or other organizations that are big in name value but they're not actually specifically abortion funds. Like, they're just the name that is associated with the issue of reproductive justice.

Jacob Smollen

What are the current support systems in place for survivors on campus? 

Rhea Rasquinha

Beyond ESV, the Title IX Office, BWell, CAPS and more are resources available for survivors. I spoke with Title IX Coordinator Ebony Manning, who detailed the office’s two processes for case handling, along with other options available to support survivors. 

Manning said, “I just want people to know that there is an office that is there to support them, and if we’re not the office to support them in that moment, we then connect (them) to student support services.” 

I also communicated with BWell Director Tanya Purdy, along with Naomi Ninneman and Alana Sacks, who discussed the University’s 24/7 Sexual Assault Response Line, SAPE — the Sexual Assault Peer Education Program — and SHARE — Sexual Harm Acute Response and Empowerment advocates, among other resources. These offices also have education programs to address broader issues which tie into the issue of sexual violence, something that ESV is working to address as well. 

Michelle Ding 

While we're focusing on sexual violence, we're not looking at sexual violence as a individual issue, but many different issues, like most notably racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and stuff like that. And we really want to address that as well.

Jacob Smollen

What have recent protests on campus looked like?

Rhea Rasquinha

I can’t speak super well to this because I wasn’t on campus for the protests, but there was a week of protest organized by ESV in spring 2021, which hundreds of students participated in. ESV leadership probably describes it best. 

Here’s Sophia Block, an ESV survivor support coordinator.

Sophia Block

For this protest, we marched hundreds and hundreds of students across campus to actually protest outside of Christina Paxson’s house. And a representative from ESV read out these demands. A lot of them have not been implemented yet, but I think a couple of the notable ones were just demanding more campus resources for survivors. We demanded that the Brown administration triple its funding for Title IX and the gender equity office; we demanded that the administration triple its funding of BWell, SHARE, CAPS and health services; and hire five additional employees to work in the Title IX and gender equity office. And we also demanded that they hire five new SHARE advocates, because right now, we're really lacking in SHARE advocates, which is a major major resource for survivors of sexual assault.

Jacob Smollen

What does the future look like for this organization and their activism?

Michelle Ding

So we do have a few different areas that we are considering working on this semester, the one that's the most major is looking at CAPS. There have recently been a lot of reports about CAPS being overflowed, not being able to give the support that students need, not being able to just give any kind of appointment to students within the timeframe that they need. And another one we're looking at is policy for international students.

Jacob Smollen

Thanks for listening. Tune in next week to talk about the history of queer culture at Brown.

This episode was produced by Elysee Barakett, Caitlyn Carpenter, Liliana Greyf, Finn Kirkpatrick, Katy Pickens, Samantha Renzulli and me, Jacob Smollen. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to The Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts and leave a review.

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