Students walk out, rally against hate and sex assaults

University expresses support for general focus of walkout, cites its own ongoing efforts

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By Vicky Waltz
February 7, 2002
Athens News: cover story

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Monday morning dawned cold, windy and cloudy. At 8 a.m., car windows were frosted over and the sidewalks were slick with ice. It seemed a bad day for an outdoor rally.

However, despite frigid temperatures and snow flurries, at 11:30 a.m., many students walked out of their classes and joined a rally at the West Portico on College Green to express concerns regarding the sexual assaults and hate crime that occurred on campus last month.

The beating of sticks against plastic buckets and outraged chants broke the morning stillness as members of the Radical Cheerleaders made their way across College Green and encouraged students to join the crowd that began to assemble outside of Memorial Auditorium. Homemade neon signs conveying messages such as “Walk Out on Sexual Assault and Hate Crimes” dotted the landscape, and in a silent testimony to all survivors of violence and hate, many participants tied purple strips of cloth around their arms.

On Jan. 13, a freshman member of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community was assaulted behind Lincoln Hall on East Green while walking home from a dance at an uptown bar. Authorities suspect that the woman was followed from the dance, which was sponsored by Open Doors. OU Police officially designated the attack as a hate crime.

Around the same time, two women reported acquaintance rapes in separate incidents on the South Green. The three incidents are still under investigation.

In response to these attacks and what they perceived as an inadequate response from the university, a group of concerned students organized Monday’s walkout and rally. Although not sponsored by any specific group, members from a number of organizations, including Feminist Coalition, Positive Action, Open Doors, OU Men Against Sexism, as well as students who were not affiliated with any group, took part in coordinating Monday’s events.

“We feel that the number of assaults that have occurred on this campus are unacceptable, and the walkout was intended to make that statement,” said Caleb Kay, a member of the LGBT community, Monday night. “We feel that the university’s responses to the attacks were inadequate, and our purpose in having the rally and the walkout was to ask: how can we receive an adequate education when members of our community fear for their lives?”

Although coordinators originally planned to have the rally at the soldiers and sailors monument on College Green, stuents gathered at the West Portico of Memorial Auditorium instead. According to Richard Carpinelli, assistant vice president of student affairs and director of Baker Center, the West Portico is designated for any persons or groups not affiliated with the university who wish to speak or distribute information.

By 11:40 a.m., an estimated group of about 200 students, faculty and community members huddled outside of Memorial Auditorium to demonstrate their support for the survivors of last month’s assaults and to address the larger issue of safety on campus, within the community and throughout the world.

As Breanne Scanlon, a sophomore and treasurer of Feminist Coalition, stepped up t the podium, the crowd erupted into cheers.

“We’ve come here today to use our First Amendment rights to speak out against hate crimes and sexual assault,” Scanlon declared. “We do not want OU to be known for a climate of hate and violence, and it is our responsibility as students to take our university back from these crimes.”

Loud whistles of approval could be heard as Scanlon’s voice echoed across the green. She paused for a moment, and the Radical Cheerleaders pounded their buckets and shouted.

“Only when we confront violence can we begin to heal from these injustices,” Scanlon continued.

“We will not tolerate violence and hate, and we will not let these attacks escape our memories.”

Once again, the crowd broke into frenzied applause, and Scanlon offered the podium to anyone who wished to speak. As the Radical Cheerleaders finished chanting, “These are our bodies, these are our lives! We will not be terrorized,” senior Steve Kehnel took his place behind the podium.

“We’re all here for various reasons,” he began, “but ultimately we’re here to unite against the hate, sexual assault, violence and intimidation that exists at the university and beyond. We have to address this whole picture of violence if we’re going to change it.

“Rape isn’t just about women, and hate crimes aren’t just about victims,” he added. “They’re about our society at large.”

Indeed, sexual assault and hate crimes are problems that extend beyond the realm of OU’s campus. According to statistics provided by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about one in 33 college women experiences a completed and/or attempted rape during a typical college year.

In addition, despite an overall drop in national crime rates, 1999 saw a 20 percent increase in rapes and a 33 percent increase in sexual assaults.

Approximately 68 percent of rapes are acquaintance rapes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These statistics, along with others, were distributed during the rally.

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When Eliot Kalman, president of the Southeastern Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) learned of Monday’s events, he made certain to make an appearance.

“There is no greater civil liberty than life,” he told the crowd. “To call rape ‘rape’ is an insult to the victim. It gives too much credit to the perpetrator. It’s murder, and murder is terrorism.”

Senior Damon Krane expressed many students’ sentiments regarding criticism of the walkout.

“The editorial section of today’s Post states that if students want to have a rally, then they should hold it at a time when people will not have to leave class to attend because it’s disruptive,” he said. “Well, we’re here today because sexual assault and hate crimes are not only disrupting our education, but they’re disrupting our daily lives as well.”

Although Monday’s walkout was not sanctioned by the OU administration, the rally, as well as the walkout, was supported by a number of OU officials, including Carpinelli.

“I was quite heartened to see our students protesting for a safe environment,” Carpinelli said Tuesday afternoon. “Weith regards to the walkout, I will say that students are adults and they have the right to make decisions of where they want to be throughout the day.”

Safety was an important issue for many students who spoke at Monday’s rally.

“We are all victims in that we are not safe in our homes,” freshman Liz Kozup asserted. “I feel victimized in that I don’t feel safe to walk these streets alone. This is our home; this is where we live. And if we can’t be safe where we live, then where can we be safe?”

Other speakers, such as Caleb Kay, chose to persuade instead of question.

“I don’t consent to be seen or treated as a victim any longer,” he shouted. “We need to break out silence! My fiends, my lovers – people I care about – they’ve all been victims of hate and assault, and that is so fucked up. Do not consent. Break the silence!”

As Kay’s voice resonated among the students, the Radical Cheerleaders broke into another chant. “Resist, resist, we know that you are pissed!” they roared.

One student wearing a rainbow bandana chose to express his feelings through emotion rather than words. Taking his place behind the podium, he closed his eyes and yelled, “Ahhhhh!”

As the rally continued, protesters presented a list of demands for the university. Among others, they included mandatory comprehensive sexual assault and hate crime prevention workshops for all incoming first-year and transfer students, desinated LGBT-friendly floors in residence halls, and the creation of a women’s center. In addition, protesters requested that OU form a coalition with other Ohio schools to lobby against the passage of state legislation that would prevent the granting of domestic partner employee benefits in the state of Ohio.

According to Joe Burke, OU’s director of Residence Life, the university is continuing its ongoing efforts to address isuues of sexual assault and awareness within the residence halls.

“We train our staff to deal with issues such as sexual assault and hate crimes,” Burke said Tuesday morning. “We also have the residents participate in community life assessments every year. We ask them to fill out questionnaires that ask them if they have been targets of written, verbal or physical abuse or if they have witnessed it by other floor-section members.”

Students also expressed concern that current crime statistics are not posted on the OUPD’s website. According to an article published in The Athens News on Jan. 31, the Clery Act, originally enacted by Congress and signed into law by President George [H.W.] Bush as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, requires that all schools publish an annual report that contains three years worth of campus crime statistics. OU is not in compliance with the Clery Act because statistics are only available through 1999, Krane said. (In the Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday, an OU representative said that oversight had been corrected.)

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