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OWU students speak out for UNC-CH rape survivors
Several hours after senior Leah Shaeffer heard Landen Gambill, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is reportedly facing expulsion for speaking publicly about being raped, she got an email from sophomore Liz Nadeau.
Shaeffer is the campus campaign organizer for V-Day – an international movement to end violence against women and girls – at Ohio Wesleyan, and Nadeau is president-elect of Pitch Black, OWU’s women’s a cappella group.
The two worked together to hold a photo shoot for OWU students showing support for Gambill and other sexual assault survivors at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Gambill, along with 66 other survivors at the university, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging the university has violated survivors’ legal rights.
She has since had charges filed against her by her alleged rapist in the university’s student-run Honor Court, who says he’s innocent and that she’s created an intimidating environment for him by speaking publicly about her experience. Gambill has said she filed sexual assault charges against him through the Honor Court and he was found not guilty.
According to Gambill, she was told even saying publicly that she was raped could constitute an Honor Code violation.
Shaeffer said it was important to raise awareness about this issue because “it is so unjust and it is a really terrible and excellent example of rape culture in America, specifically in the university system.”
Nadeau said she felt the incident is “something people needed to know about.”
“She (Gambill) needed the support from other schools, and I felt like it should really be a community issue and not just a UNC issue,” she said.
Holden Thorp, chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, was sent questions about the photo shoot and the issue; Susan Hudson, outreach editor of UNC News Services, replied on his behalf.
“Because of concern for our students and their privacy, and in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), we are unable to discuss the specifics of an Honor Court case or related allegations involving students,” she said in an email.
Hudson also forwarded “Message from the Chancellor: Continuing the Campus Conversation about Sexual Assault,” a letter to the UNC-Chapel Hill students, faculty and staff from Chancellor Thorp.
The letter says sexual assault is “one of the greatest challenges facing campuses across the nation,” and that the UNC-Chapel Hill administration welcomes the Office of Civil Right’s investigation.
“Our response will show how the University has made significant changes in the past 18 months about how sexual assault complaints are handled,” Thorp said in the letter.
He said sexual assault cases have been removed from the Honor System’s jurisdiction and that the university is continuing to build on existing relationships with the Public Safety department, local law enforcement and rape crisis counselors.
Nadeau and Shaeffer took photos between Monday, March 4, and Thursday, March 7, and posted them on Facebook on March 8. They are still working on an accompanying video project.
Shaeffer said they decided to do a photo and video project was because it was “the easiest and quickest way” to show as much support as possible for the survivors.
She added that photo projects can involve many people showing their support, while videos are more easily shared because they only require one link, rather than several for a series of photos.
31 students took part in the photo project, including freshman Alanna Spalsbury, senior Claire Panaccia and freshman Hannah Simpson.
Spalsbury, a member of Pitch Black, held a sign reading, “I stand with UNC survivors because: no should be afraid to SPEAK UP!”
She said in an email she wanted to get involved after “seeing how passionate (Nadeau) was about it.”
“I decided to take part in it because I know too many girls who have been sexually assaulted in my life, and they all have had wonderful supports including their friends, family and school,” she said. “So now, with this happening to those women, I can’t imagine the struggle and hardship it is not having that support that the (people) close to me had.”
Panaccia, whose sign read “I stand with UNC survivors because: who’s really the VICTIM here?” said in an email that she learned about the story when a friend mentioned the project to her over lunch.
“I decided to take part in the photo shoot campaign because victim blaming is, I think, one of the most serious road-blocks to gender equality and the feminist movement in this country,” she said. “I was furious that it would penetrate to an administrative level at a university. It really made me appreciate the supportive environment we foster here at OWU, and I wanted to share that support and love with someone who wasn’t getting it at their own university.”
Simpson said in an email that she heard about the issue during a conversation, and found out about the project through its Facebook event.
Her sign read “I stand with UNC survivors because: no one should be punished for defending him or herself.”
“I decided to take part in this campaign because it is important for students at UNC to know that they have our full support,” she said.
“Also, this is an issue that I feel particularly strongly about, and I felt that it was my responsibility to take part in it.”
Nadeau said the main goal of the project was “just to get OWU out there and make sure that they (the survivors at UNC-CH) know that they have the support of a school that’s a thousand miles away.”
She said she hopes students at other campuses will see the photos and carry out similar projects to show their support.
“We’re hoping to inspire other colleges to do their own thing,” Shaeffer said. “We hope that we’ll be one of the first, but definitely not the last.”
A sighting of someone wearing Ku Klux Klan robes early in the morning of March 4 outside Oberlin College’s Afrikan Heritage House prompted Ohio Wesleyan students to make a banner showing their support.
The incident was one of many occurrences of racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism reported at Oberlin.
Hate graffiti of slurs like “ni***r” and “fa***t” and drawings of swastikas were seen around campus in February.
Classes were canceled at Oberlin after the KKK incident, which attracted attention from national news media.
At OWU, senior Andrea Kraus partnered with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and its director, Terree Stevenson, to hang a banner outside the office and have students sign it in support.
Kraus said she was talking to Stevenson about the situation at Oberlin and wanted to send something to Oberlin to show solidarity, “since Oberlin’s very similar to OWU.”
Kraus said she hopes the banner will make Oberlin students “aware that OWU supports them.”
She marketed the project with a Facebook event and emails to SLU members and leaders of other activist groups.
Junior Lehlohonolo Mosola, resident adviser at the House of Black Culture, signed the banner. He said in an email he hopes the Oberlin administration will “(i)dentify the students responsible as fast as possible and remove them without question.”
Senior Anna Cooper, a resident of the House of Peace and Justice, said one of her best friends is a student at Oberlin and they talked about the incidents over text messages.
“It sounds like students are on edge and scared, and there is a lot of tension between the students and the administration about the level of response,” Cooper said in an email.
Oberlin sophomore Ambre Dromgoole, a member of the Black Student Union there, said in an email that she has had trouble sleeping due to the incident. She said she fears what will happen once attention to the incidents fades and wonders whether increased security on campus will continue.
“Being safe and feeling safe are two completely different concepts,” she said. “…(W)ill that security go away, leaving us vulnerable to physical harm as well as the destruction and defacement of the space that we call home?” Will I ever be able to walk around campus again by myself and will I always have to watch my back? Do I have to keep a pair of tennis shoes with me in case I am chased? The impact that these events and the overall racial climate of Oberlin will be something that I carry with me for the rest of my life.”
A black friend of Dromgoole’s who requested to remain unnamed was walking on campus late at night in February when a man chased her after following her in a white van; she was able to get away safely.
Dromgoole said the March 4 sighting was not the first time Klan paraphernalia was spotted on campus.
Another black Oberlin student who requested anonymity found a KKK poster and white supremacist bumper sticker on her bicycle on March 1.
The poster depicted people in KKK robes and the slogan, “The original boys in the hood” while the bumper sticker showed a hand holding a noose and read, “It’s not illegal to be white…yet.”
A record of these incidents and many others was published online by the Tumblr blog “Oberlin Microaggressions.” The account also published messages of support from Oberlin students and alumni, as well as students at other colleges.
Kraus said the situation made her reflect more on the relationship between students and administrators regarding race, gender and sexual orientation.
“There’s a faction of OWU students who are super passionate about social justice issues, and I know that there are some who are a little bit more unaware of them,” she said. “…I feel that our school is pretty respectful. There is, of course, always these instances that happen – I feel like our school can be homophobic and it can be sexist and it can be racist…I think that we have great administrators here who would be supporting us in ways that are both similar and dissimilar to Oberlin.”
Cooper said these issues are problems “at OWU, in Delaware, in Ohio, (and) everywhere.”
“We do not live in an egalitarian society, so these problems continue to exist,” she said.
Cooper listed organizations like the Women’s and Spectrum Resource Centers, OMSA, PRIDE, Black Men of the Future and Sisters United (SU), as well SLU programming and diversity requirements, as institutions that tackle these issues and raise awareness.
“This discrimination is a result of systemic social inequality that is a battle to address every day,” she said.
Freshman Twanisha Taylor said she found out about the Oberlin incident from an SU event.
She said in an email that she supports the Oberlin students because, as a black woman, she knows what it means to be discriminated against on the bases of ethnicity, gender and religion.
“I hope to give Oberlin the support that they need, and to inform them that they are not fighting this fight alone,” Taylor said. “As small schools in Ohio, we have to stick together so that we can be strong, and continue to encourage each other.”
Dean of Students Kimberlie Goldsberry also signed the banner, which she said had a “tremendous amount of comments of solidarity.”
She said in an email she hopes the incident “reminds us all to value our diverse campus community and that it is the people of OWU that create the community spirit.”
“It is important to respect and value each individual within our community,” she said.
Oberlin junior Eliza Diop, a member of the Oberlin Student Senate and an RA at the Afrikan Heritage House, said in an email that she thought the banner was “a wonderful way to show (OWU’s) support and solidarity for the issues occurring on Oberlin’s campus, but also on several campus(es) throughout our nation.”
The Student Union on Black Awareness and SU also held a banner-signing event to show solidarity with Oberlin students, but leaders of the two groups declined to answer questions about the event.