LTE: Survivors deserve better from Northwestern University

This piece was originally submitted October 22 in support of the survivor involved in the writings on The Rock last month that were power-washed away by the University. We hope this message of community and support reaches you.

Content warning: This story contains mentions of sexual violence.

There are few occasions in a person’s life that require as much vulnerability and courage as coming forward to share an experience of sexual violence. It is an extremely personal process and each person deserves the power to decide where, when and how their story will be told.

Last month, a student who had already been failed once by Northwestern took to The Rock to tell their story and make their voice heard. Northwestern failed them yet again, removing the message out of concern that it could be “a trigger for sexual assault survivors.” Northwestern’s administration took an opportunity to address violence in our community and – quite literally – power washed it away.

If Northwestern wants to support survivors, why didn’t they support the one who wrote this message? If Northwestern is concerned about triggering survivors, how do they fail to realize how triggering it can be to see a survivor’s story literally erased?

It is disrespectful to this survivor and to all survivors on this campus for Northwestern to pretend that erasing this message was anything but an effort to erase their complicity and failure. If Northwestern truly cared about the well-being of survivors, they would actively work to eliminate rape culture, not continue to perpetuate it. They would hold students, organizations and themselves, accountable for their actions. They would ask survivors how to support their healing and work to foster a campus community that provides the resources they need to heal.

“We believe survivors” is a complete sentence. We believe survivors when it’s inconvenient for us. We believe survivors when it makes us uncomfortable. We believe survivors when their experiences reflect poorly on us and our institutions. We believe survivors when they don’t have a clear memory of what happened. We believe survivors when they don’t know how to label their experiences. We believe survivors when they decide not to report what happened to them. We believe survivors when they tell their story publicly, and when they ask us to do better.

We believe survivors. Period. To the survivor who wrote this message, we believe you. Your story matters. Northwestern can wash away your words, but we will not let you be silenced.

If you or someone you know needs support around sexual violence, Northwestern has survivor-centered resources available. CARE is a confidential resource for anyone who has experienced sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking (Instagram: @carenu). Students Promoting Education, Awareness and Knowledge (SPEAK) For Change is a student support and advocacy group operating under CARE (Instagram: @nuspeakforchange; Facebook: Speak For Change Northwestern). SHAPE (Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators) is also a resource to connect folks to any resources they may need on their path to healing (Instagram: @nushape; Facebook: SHAPE Northwestern). The existence of these resources does not eliminate the need for major institutional and systemic change at this university – Northwestern should be a place survivors can turn to, not a source of further harm and trauma.

Signed,

Julia Lowenthal, Spencer Colton, Charlotte Masters, Felicia Tuchman, Lucas Vime-Olive and Amy Prochaska

If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, 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.

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