Students gather on SAE headquarters lawn to protest rape culture on campus


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Students sit on the lawn of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s headquarters as part of a protest to support survivors of sexual assault. Several students shared their concerns about rape culture as well as their own stories.

Catherine Kim , Development and Recruitment editor

Several students shared stories of sexual assault as they sat on the lawn of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national headquarters Friday in solidarity with survivors.

At the beginning of the protest, about 40 people gathered in between the International Studies Residential College and the Communications Residential College, later crossing the street to SAE’s headquarters. Once the protesters were seated on the grass, some expressed their concerns about rape culture on campus.

Communication senior Mia Weed, one of the protest organizers, told The Daily she felt “defeated” when she heard SAE would be allowed to return to campus in 2018 following a successful completion of its suspension. Still, she said it was important to organize the event to show support for survivors.

“I want them to at least have a physical demonstration of all the people that care about their pain,” she said. “At least see that people don’t want to just let this slide.”

In April, the University suspended SAE until September 2018 after an investigation found that the chapter “knowingly violated” its disciplinary probation last academic year. The investigation found that the fraternity had been “repeatedly hosting parties and providing alcohol to minors,” University spokesman Bob Rowley told The Daily at the time.

The University announced in March that no disciplinary action would be taken against the fraternity after an earlier, separate investigation into allegations of druggings and sexual assaults. Last week, Interfraternity Council chapter presidents voted to cease recognition of SAE until July 2021.

SAE spokesman Brandon Weghorst told The Daily in an email that SAE “respects the rights of students to assemble and voice their concerns.”

“The national organization is equally committed to being proactive to eliminate sexual assault and misconduct on campuses nationwide,” Weghorst said.

He added that there are no active SAE members at Northwestern while the fraternity is suspended.

“During SAE’s suspension, we are glad to see students’ continued commitment to making campus a safe environment,” Weghorst said.

Though the majority of the protest occurred on private property, Weed said the risk for her was a “tiny sacrifice” in comparison to the pain of survivors.

Communication senior Lindsey Weiss, one of the protest organizers, told The Daily students will not tolerate violence against their peers. Weiss, who uses “they/them/their” pronouns, added that students need to address sexual assault on campus.

“It is so immensely frustrating and dehumanizing and enraging to me on a personal level,” Weiss said.

It is important to hold “survivor-centric” events like Friday’s protest because they provide a space where survivors can control what they share in a safe environment, Weiss said.

Weiss said because of the many reported and unreported cases of sexual assault, people have become desensitized to the issue. Instead, people need to start caring daily about these issues on an interpersonal level, they said.

They added that people can help fight sexual assault by intervening when it may be occurring and by preventing aggressors from holding positions of power.

Weed said another way to help survivors is to listen to their stories and believe them, as survivors of sexual assault are often doubted.

“People won’t act until there’s full proof and a lot of the times, they don’t care as much about the person who’s done this,” she said.

Dean of Students Todd Adams, who attended the event, said he worked with organizers beforehand to discuss their plans and ensure their success.

Adams added that he understands concerns about student safety on campus.

“We continue to work with students, including the group that has gathered today and some of the organizers, around their concerns addressing prevention issues, other ways we’re intervening, and acknowledging that we have work to do — but are in progress with that,” he said.

Dwight Hamilton, Title IX coordinator and associate vice president for equity, said the University named Kate Harrington-Rosen as the new Title IX/Equity Outreach and Education Specialist to promote sexual assault prevention and education.

“If you address the culture and create an environment where sexual violence is simply not tolerated, that should create an environment where individuals do feel safer,” Hamilton said.

Weinberg junior Talia Waxman, who attended the event, told The Daily she was “overwhelmed” by the enormity of sexual assault on campus and barriers that make it difficult to achieve progress.

However, Waxman said she felt inspired by survivors’ stories.

“Hearing survivors speak up and share their stories really grounds this issue in those lived realities and the trauma that survivors face on campus every day,” she said. “It’s really important to be reminded that and the human element of this.”

Weed said she hopes the protest brings awareness to sexual assault on campus.

For survivors who attended the protest, Weed said the event will serve as a reminder that survivors stand in solidarity, even if sexual assault cases are quickly forgotten.

“Seeing people physically holding signs and shouting, I think it does something to make them feel a little less alone at least,” she said.

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