“Our University Has a Rape Problem.”
On Boston University maps, statues and street lights, on blue lights, bus stops and benches, under archways, entranceways and every light on the Fitness and Recreation Center’s Commonwealth Avenue face, these words and others like it were posted — overtaking the campus from East to West.
Some murmured the words to themselves or friends as they passed the signs. Others questioned why those words were there. Some stopped and took photos.
Though the protest was quiet, the message was loud — students demanded to be heard.
Nearly a month after BU junior Prisha Kumar’s second open letter condemning the University’s treatment of sexual assault was released to the public — after an initial letter written in June — Kumar and the other co-founders of the @campus.survivors Instagram account organized an on-campus protest, demanding a response from the administration.
“The consistent failure to address issues with sexual assault, specifically with BIPOC, LGBT, and disabled students, was the last straw,” Kumar wrote in an email. “This is unacceptable, and I am lucky enough to have told my story enough times that I felt comfortable enough to help organize a protest with other activists.”
From 10 p.m. Sunday to 1 a.m. Monday students were invited to visit one of five centers on campus — the George Sherman Union, Marsh Plaza, Agganis Arena, Questrom School of Business and South Campus housing — to protest, chalk and poster about sexual assault on campus.
College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Evan Teplensky, executive vice president of CAS Student Government, said he got involved in the protest as soon as he saw the post on Instagram. He reached out to Kumar and volunteered to contact “as many student groups as possible” to join the fight.
“I said ‘I have to help,’” he said. “I’m going to send her an army of students. We have to get this resolved, and if not resolved, we need people to know that this is an issue and it needs to be dealt with.”
Undeterred by the snow, an estimated 600 students participated in the protest, Kumar wrote in an email. By location, around 200 students were in Central, 150 in East, 200 in West and more than 50 in South.
One hundred one student groups and organizations — from arts to science to Greek Life — had pledged their support for sexual assault survivors and the movement, and vowed to advocate for stronger University policies for survivors, as of Feb. 6.
“The reaction is overwhelming,” Kumar wrote in an email. “I cried when I saw how many people signed up and shared the announcements to protest.”
Protesters at the event were required to show their BU green badge before picking up chalk and posters, and encouraged to spread out, Teplensky said. Students were also told not to use the spray-paint chalk on the buildings, though regular chalk was used.
The protest was held in conjunction with the national University Survivors Movement — an organization centered around ending sexual assault on college campuses — when colleges nationwide gathered Sunday to protest with chalk and posters. Kumar is an organizer with USM as well, she wrote.
Unlike a typical protest, the design of USM’s — being at night — allowed for survivors to both distance and remain anonymous in their messaging, adding a double layer of safety to the evening.
“If they’re a survivor, if they’re just an ally, if they want to remain anonymous but still have voiced their concern,” Teplensky said, “we want to make sure to have that space.”
Students learning remotely this semester could still join the effort by sending an email to the administration using a template on the protest’s Linktree, or donating to Kumar for supplies through Venmo.
The BU protest had specific demands that called on the University to issue a public statement, enforce a zero-tolerance policy for student organizations and faculty, create an anonymous strike system and increase the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center’s resources and funding.
“Those are all tangible,” Teplensky said. “None of them, in my mind, are things that will make the University look bad. Why are we protecting these individuals who think it’s their right to violate others?”
Also on the Linktree is a 42-page document detailing the 98 BU-specific accounts of sexual assault posted on @campus.survivors since its creation in May 2020. The volume of stories, Teplensky said, speaks to the severity and urgency of this issue.
“How many accounts does it need to get at, 100, 1,000, 5,000?” Teplensky said. “When is BU administration going to say something and do something?”
Savannah Majarwitz, a junior in CAS, is the lead CAS senator and co-chair for StuGov’s mental health committee.
She said she would like to see the administration expand long-term counseling services and hire more diverse counselors so people of color feel more comfortable.
“Anyone who experiences sexual assault, harassment, rape, that kind of trauma has serious mental health consequences,” Majarwitz said. “The mental health services at this school, while there are a lot of resources, there have been a lot of complaints.”
When asked if the University had a comment about the sexual assault protests, Dean of Students and Associate Provost Kenneth Elmore said BU does not think it’s “appropriate” to respond to students via social media.
“We are doing our best to try and make sure that we follow the policies that we have out there,” Elmore said, “and I do know that one of those big issues is how long this takes, and it does take a long time, and it takes a long time because we’re human beings.”
He added he is glad the students are raising awareness about sexual assault on campus, and mentioned some webinars last semester to have conversation and receive feedback. Elmore said he has responded to Kumar about her first open letter.
“I think that’s really the important piece,” Elmore said, “and we will respond to anyone who wants to get a response from us about their particular circumstance.”
However, CAS sophomore Yashi Katari, a co-founder of @campus.survivors, said she did not feel heard.
“If the administration needs a reason for why this is an important issue, then we have a bigger problem,” she said. “Students currently are being treated as dollar bills, where our tuition matters but our lives and our well-beings don’t.”
Paula Drewes, a sophomore in CAS, said she participated in the protest after having followed the @campus.survivors account — which she said is “probably the only thing I care about on Instagram right now” — and wanted to support survivors.
“Seeing posts coming in over and over again has been really scary,” she said, “and I just don’t think it’s fair that there are so many cases going unnoticed by the school.”
Clara Martiny, a senior in the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, said she thought it was “despicable” the University does not actively support survivors through the reporting process. She said she protested to hold the administration accountable.
“They have to do better, they have to stop defending rapists,” Martiny said at the protest. “They urge survivors to step up and speak out, but they don’t really do anything to protect them through that process.”
Ivy Fan, a junior in Questrom, said she protested because she wants survivors to feel safe on campus.
“I think it’s important for Administration to stand up for its students and not just hide things,” Fan said at the protest, “It’s important for there to be equality on all ends and for survivors to feel supported and safe especially among their peers and see that the administration supports that.”
Isabel Mullens, a CAS sophomore, said at the protest the University must follow through on its promises for mental health resources and safety when it comes to an issue such as this.
“If at the end of the day, they’re not going to support and help sexual assault victims,” Mullens said, “then I don’t think they can say that they’re promoting safety in the way that they are.”
Gladys Vargas, a junior in the College of Communication who said they were part of the protest’s core group of organizers, said they want to see more accountability and follow-through.
“I’m here today because BU has done so much injustice towards its survivors on campus and it needs to do a better job of protecting its students,” Vargas said.
CAS sophomore Sophia Kim, a co-founder of campus survivors, said she wants the administration to know their silence will not be tolerated.
“It’s not going away, whether or not you want it to,” she said. “It’s impacting so many people and so many lives … it’s so unfair that it’s put on the survivors and that we have to step up to even ask for these things and to be acknowledged.”
Kim added the co-founders are thankful for the BU community’s support and are determined to continue demanding change.
“We started as three people, we don’t even know if this was going to take off at all, to be honest, and we’re just so glad that people feel the same way we do about this topic, and that people are so willing to help,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”
Katari said she hopes the protest finally makes a difference.
“If they don’t listen to 200 students, 98 stories and 100 student clubs, then I don’t know what they will listen to,” Katari said.
Campus Editor Nick Kolev contributed to the reporting in this article.