Letter from the Opinion Editors: Do not stop speaking up

Mariana Alfaro and Troy Closson

Sometimes the systems in place to combat abuse are not successful in stopping dangerous behaviors. That’s when we — as allies, as witnesses, as bystanders — have to step up.

The last month has seen countless sexual harassment allegations and accusations against powerful men in seemingly every major industry. Each new revelation, though horrifying, pushes us forward in the war against sexual harassment and assault. Many of these allegations, however, have existed as rumors for years — passed around in watercooler talk while witness accounts were waved off because those impacted were made to stay silent.

The perceived power of these men — Harvey Weinstein, NPR’s Michael Oreskes, and, most recently, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and comedian Louis C.K. — was so strong that both survivors and bystanders alike were pressured to stay silent to protect not only their careers, but themselves and their families. This only adds to the trauma and pain these assaults bring. And sometimes, even when witnesses exist, these allegations are still waved off as rumors and made the butt of jokes — like when “30 Rock” mocked Harvey Weinstein’s disgusting behavior, or when Louis C.K.’s inappropriate behavior became part of his stand-up routine. We as a society are afraid of the repercussions of looking into these accusations, so we keep letting people get away with it.

We, as not only Opinion Editors but also as Northwestern students, are writing this because we know these allegations and assaults are not restricted to the Hollywoods, Washingtons and Silicon Valleys of the world — they’re happening right here, in our own backyard. We are not going to pretend that with Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s suspension, sexual harassment and assault were stomped out of NU. We are not going to pretend that the pressure to keep silent does not exist here. And though we know these experiences and allegations exist, we do not write this to pressure survivors to come out and tell their stories. Survivors do not owe us their stories and should only share them if and when they’re ready to.

Rather, we want to address those who know assault and harassment are happening and instead choose to look the other way. People stay silent for a number of reasons — you might be afraid of facing backlash or repercussions, and that’s completely valid. But speaking up can make the difference between ensuring a survivor feels supported and allowing injustice to continue.

Perhaps the most recent example of this happening at NU came earlier this year, with reports of assaults and possible druggings at SAE. But we want to be clear: We know this behavior at NU does NOT only happen at fraternities. Assault can happen in any space. What we’re trying to get at is that, in the SAE case, someone spoke up; someone reported what happened. And though, at the end of the day, no disciplinary action was taken against the chapter for those accusations, they led to an investigation into SAE, and ultimately a temporary suspension.

Taking a stand isn’t limited to speaking up; it also means actively protesting the systems that perpetuate sexual violence. There’s so much we as allies, as bystanders, can do to continue fighting this system, from not participating in activities thrown by organizations that foster toxic behaviors to talking to our friends about accountability.

Last week, we published the account of a former SAE member who witnessed toxic behavior in the house. Recognizing his complicity, he spoke up. Just this week, students protested outside SAE’s national headquarters, Associated Student Government Senate introduced a sexual assault training mandate and Panhellenic Association released a statement encouraging students to report safety concerns and possible SAE recruitment efforts.

All we’re asking for is this: If you’re already speaking up against this oppressive system, continue doing so — and encourage others to as well. And if you’re not, take the time to consider what stops you from joining these efforts and how your silence affects others.

This isn’t about creating scandals or outing people. This is about stopping our community from letting harassers and abusers get away with dangerous behavior, and providing support to anyone affected by it. Talk to your friends or a trusted adviser. Go to the multiple spaces — the Women’s Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Center for Awareness, Response and Education, just to name a few — on campus that deal with these issues. Continue being loud and affirmative. We cannot let this conversation die.

Mariana Alfaro is a Medill senior and Troy Closson is a Medill sophomore. Mariana can be contacted at [email protected] and Troy can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.