Trigger Warning: This article mentions sexual assault.
Several hundred students gathered across Boston University’s campus to protest against its negligence toward addressing sexual assault Sunday night. With chalk and posters in hand, students met up to fight for a zero-tolerance policy — among other demands — to be implemented at BU.
The Instagram account @campus.survivors, whose founders helped organize the protest, has received 98 stories from BU assault survivors in the span of nine months. Ninety-eight incidences that have been shared, and who knows how many more have not been told to the public.
In response, the administration chose to literally wash away these concerns, removing posters and temporary chalk messages, such as “BU is complicit,” from certain spaces on campus. When asked, the University explained the school had designated spaces for protest, or “free expression boards,” and removing them was a standard protocol for any postering in restricted areas.
To stand for justice and tolerate protesting also means allowing protests to take up spaces normally free of posters. That’s what they’re meant to do — draw attention to high-traffic areas and break the norm.
Standard protocol or not, erasing these messages was a flippant dismissal of students’ concerns. BU took an active role against the protest, mere hours after the fact.
Given the severity of the issue, there is no possible justification for the University’s actions.
Beyond that, it was a peaceful and COVID-19 safe protest — protestors distanced themselves and even had to show their green badge to receive supplies.
Based on their actions, it appears the administration sees chalk as a larger threat than sexual assault.
If they saw the messages and took the time to clean up their buildings, the least they could do is address the student body by issuing a statement with action steps they will be taking. And they could easily have done so if they prioritized the BU community over power-washing Warren Towers.
In other words, the University’s actions just appear to be efforts to save its reputation from passersby on Commonwealth Avenue.
Even the University’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center posted only the bare minimum on its Instagram account: “We stand with survivors.” No commentary on the zero-tolerance policy, nor a push to hold the University accountable.
We deserve the same respect the administration expects from us. BU cannot keep allowing students to be assaulted on its very grounds and then silencing survivors when they speak up.
It’s disappointing and frustrating, but not at all new. We can all remember the tone-deaf and disingenuous statement from this past summer comparing racism to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And we can remember waiting and calling for the University to release the statement in the first place as they posted a graduation celebration picture captioned with a hashtag “ProudtoBU” rather than acknowledge racial injustice and the systemic inequalities it contributes to.
History repeats itself, and BU has shown itself to be deaf to everything we’re saying yet again. This time, the University posted a picturesque and insignificant snowy day, pinning all the supportive comments that were not about sexual assault or its complicit silence and even deleting ones calling them out.
Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore addressed the protest with a letter posted on the University’s Instagram account @bostonu Tuesday. The statement was just from Elmore, and out of the six slides, there was no action plan outlined and no sign of actionable change.
It should not take more than 60 student organizations protesting and nearly 100 — certainly more — cases of sexual assault on campus for the administration to listen. It should not have to take so much of our effort and so many students’ pain to receive the slightest crumb of empathy or consideration from the very institution that is supposed to be educating and protecting us.
It should not take BU’s own College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine Arts, College of General Studies, College of Communication and Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences student governments rallying for the cause before the administration addresses the issue.
It’s difficult to have hope this administration will take action. However, it’s easy to see the effect the trailblazers who attend BU can have on our community. This protest marks the beginning of a unified effort from the student body to stop sexual assault on campus.
Plus, the University loves good press. The administration has shown time and time again to act — albeit mostly performatively — under public pressure that threatens to taint BU’s name, ranking or reputation. When they realize this is a public-relations nightmare that cannot be stopped, they will be forced into action.
On the same token, BU’s track record shows a history of reluctance to act, and if they do end up listening, it’s likely they’ll be slow to address. And let’s say the University does establish a zero-tolerance policy — what comes next? Will they enforce zero-tolerance or implement active preventative measures such as more comprehensive resources and escort services? Or will this policy be another shallow attempt to appease us?
It’s not just the campus safety that’s in question, either. Preventative measures can start with severe discipline for perpetrators by expelling them and making sure they don’t get the opportunity to become repeat offenders.
Too many students have reported dismissals of their cases after court hearings or as a result of BU’s rules. Too many students have said they were blamed for their assault, and their rapists, even with evidence, were not properly disciplined. Too many students have lost their trust in their University as a result.
BU needs to make a constant commitment to the cause, actively work to ensure students’ safety, dismantle the prevalent rape culture on its campus and establish trust so students will be willing to speak up and report assailants in the first place. It will never be as easy as one quick, overnight policy change.
We need to keep pushing and building off this momentum. We need more public pressure from other publications to create the response that is needed, which we have a start on.
We know one thing for sure: BU students don’t need the administration to cause change.
BU Greek Life recently committed to hosting a sexual assault prevention seminar that will be mandatory for all members. More than 300 members of BU’s It’s On Us chapter pledged to promote consent on campus and stand with survivors in December. And of course, 67 student organizations have stepped up to support and contribute to Sunday’s protest.
The next action steps we as students can take is to send an email to President Robert Brown — the demands of which start with a public statement that has not yet been released — call the Dean of Students office directly and stick with the movement.
To the BU administration: the very least you could do was listen, and you failed to do that. You must do better.