“Stop the violence, no more silence”: USF community gather to protest University’s handling of sexual assault and abuse

Miguel Arcayena and Megan Robertson

Staff Writers

Over 100 USF community members gathered at Gleeson Plaza to participate in the speakout event, organized by It’s On USFCA. PHOTO COURTESY OF @PHOTOGRAPHY_FROM_SOCKS ON INSTAGRAM

Following the aftermath of accusations made in the Sept. 30 Sports Illustrated (SI) article, the It’s On USFCA organization held a survivor speakout event Oct. 7 to “stand in solidarity with student survivors and demand the University administration to adequately address sexual violence on campus,” according to the event’s flyer. 

The event drew approximately 100 students to Gleeson Plaza, the majority of which were dressed in red and teal to display support as the flyer asked. The event included anonymous, written survivor stories with crowd chants, demands for the administration, and in-person accounts of sexual assault and abuse. 

One of the event’s organizers, senior politics major Gabriela Klemer De Lassé, said that Fitzgerald’s Sept. 30 response to the SI article “enflamed the community.” She added that their organization “thought it was necessary to respond as a community to let people know that a) action needs to be taken and b) that other survivors exist.” 

Senior politics major Natalya Bomani co-organized the event with De Lassé. “It was important to us to give survivors a voice,” she said. “They should be centered on this issue. We need to bring survivors into the space, to give them an opportunity to heal and bond together as a community.”

While many campus community members were in attendance, an absence was felt strongly by attendees: USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. and members of his administration. However, Kellie Samson, head of media relations, clarified in an email to the Foghorn that “several members of the university’s Student Life staff and the Title IX office attended the Speak-out.”

Sophomore communications major Mikayla Brown was one of many students who noticed his absence. “As a rape survivor myself, I am appalled that the University showed no support at this event when students are being brave enough to be vulnerable in front of a community,” she said. 

There was a verbal consensus in the crowd that the University needs to “stop this lip service, they have to stop all these empty platitudes,” Bomani said. “It is a very performative administration. We have to go beyond words to help our communities. This is a crisis; they need to treat it like a crisis and listen to our demands.”

When asked what is the administration’s response to their perceived lack of action, Samson wrote, “We have clearly heard from students and alumni about the hurt and mistrust they have experienced. We take these accounts very seriously — and investigate and act on all reports.” 

The demands of It’s On USFCA were released on social media and reiterated throughout the event. The group’s demands include: an apology from Fitzgerald for the University’s failures in addressing sexual violence, survivor-centered Title IX policies, the creation of a student survivor task force, required training for all community members quarterly, and increased funding for sexual violence prevention programming. 

This action plan for the administration was a “community effort,” according to Bomani. Members of It’s On USFCA and other student community groups created these demands following advice from student survivors. “These five demands aren’t everything. We had a much longer list,” co-organizer Klemer De Lassé said. “We stripped it down to those that we think are the most immediate and allow us to form groups that can continue this work on campus.”

According to Samson, the University will be responding to these demands soon. “In consultation with university leadership, Fr. Fitzgerald is preparing responses to the submitted demands. These responses will be shared with the entire university community,” she said. In addition to the open forum ASUSF Senate held with Fitzgerald on Oct. 6th and listening sessions offered by the Title IX office, “additional town halls are still in the planning stages.  The community will be notified when scheduling is finalized.”

A member of the crowd, sophomore performing arts and social justice major Daisy Guiterrez said, “I didn’t know that [the University] wasn’t doing anything until I attended this event and started hearing my friends and their stories. I am very disappointed and expect more from the administration since this is a social justice institution.” 

While the SI report sparked the event, “it isn’t limited to athletics on campus,” Klemer De Lassé said. “It’s all systems of brotherhood, anywhere where people protect each other and don’t allow victims the freedoms they deserve. We see it all over campus.” This sentiment was expressed in a chant spoken by the crowd: “It starts with systems of brotherhood, we’re changing it from here.”

“We’re paying too much for us to be living in an unsafe environment where they don’t care about us,” sophomore performing arts and social justice major Amel Murray said in a statement to the Foghorn. “If this is how they are going to treat this, how do they treat other situations? What else has been buried and overlooked?”

The Foghorn will continue its coverage on the issues raised by Sports Illustrated’s article and anything related to this subject in the coming weeks. 

Reach out to tips@sffoghorn.com or our news editor at marcayena@sffoghorn.com.

Megan Robertson is a sophomore media studies and performing arts and social justice double major. She can be reached at mrrobertson2@dons.usfca.edu  or on Instagram @megrrobertson.

Miguel Arcayena is a senior politics major and the Foghorn’s news editor. He covers COVID-19-related campus news and administrative issues. He can be reached at marcayena@sffoghorn.com.

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