Nate Stewart reads the demands of sexual assault survivors at last week's student protest. Photo by Alex McKenzie.
In the span of three days, “See you later” became “Take care of yourself” and “Be safe,” phrases most students on campus had not thought they needed to utter before allegations of UMBC mishandling sexual assault cases came to light. All of a sudden, the focus shifted to survivors of sexual assault as, one by one, they came forward, speaking truth to power through their stories.
It began with an intimate meeting in President Hrabowski’s office on Sept. 16, where select students, faculty and administrators met to discuss how to move forward. The next day, a protest and a list of demands traveled all the way back up to the tenth floor, a manifestation of the campus community’s hurt. Last Thursday, a listening session was initiated by the Student Government Association and then endorsed by other campus partners.
All of these meetings have been marked by the same characteristics: students speaking out and the administration falling silent. “We can and will do better,” President Hrabowski has said. But words are no longer enough, not when it becomes so easy to hide behind them.
The conversation over the past week has largely been a one-way street focused on moving past this situation. But how can we, as a community, move past this before we have even made it through? There is a time for listening, but there is also a time to respond. UMBC administration, your campus asks you to respond. Put aside the press briefings and mass emails. You have a chance to do some good within the community – take this chance.
To do that, though, your total lack of transparency, whether for legal reasons or self-preservation, needs to stop. More students would be proud of a school that actively accepts that sexual assault occurs on its campus but does everything in its power to correctly handle these cases than a school that only started caring about sexual assault cases last week because the allegations of mishandling provided some bad press.
More than anything, your lack of transparency creates a polarizing and isolating culture on campus. When students do not know what the administration is doing to help them, they may feel as if the administration is working against them. Conversely, when the administration does not engage with the students, they may feel as though they are doing what is best for students, regardless of student input. It is not fair, from either perspective.
Creating a group to review suggestions heard during the listening session is a step forward. However, creating a group without including a student representative – or stating that finding a student representative for the group is in the works – is a slap in the face, especially on a campus that touts shared governance. Stating that the group will “work in collaboration with students” is not enough.
Students on this campus – survivors on this campus – spent a week demanding to be heard, and yet again they will not be allowed at the table, except under suspicious circumstances.
“Judge us based on our actions,” President Hrabowski has said.