Students Stand Against Sexual Assault

There are so many amazing organizations and individuals mobilizing for sexual assault awareness month. We wanted to take this time to acknowledge the student activists who have worked so hard to stand up for survivors.

College students have been speaking out about sexual assault experiences and it has led to an unprecedented wave of activism, powering real change and influencing the national conversation. They deserve credit for major victories, including: A task force set up by President Barack Obama, the It’s On Us White House campaign to prevent sexual violence, several bills in Congress, a slew of state-level committees, and continued government hearings about rape on campus. Survivor activists and allies have effectively put sexual violence on the national agenda and made a real impact.

Students standing up for survivors can transform society. For sexual assault awareness month, we want to highlight just a few of the movement leaders in our recent history who have worked tirelessly to make change.

Activism can take many forms, like turning a mattress into a symbol of protest as one Columbia University student did. For her senior thesis, Emma Sulkowicz conducted a work of endurance performance art called “Carry That Weight” to protest the fact that her attacker remained at the institution. For an entire academic year, she carried a mattress wherever she went on campus—including to her graduation ceremony.

Most organizations start small, but a movement can grow quickly when you have activists like Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky, who co-founded Know Your IX to educate students about their rights. “A few years ago, when we were each sexually assaulted by a student on our campus, we had no idea that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments was about anything more than women’s sports. We wish we had known at the time about our civil right to an education free from harassment and violence. With that knowledge, we could have stood up to our schools’ cruel responses to the violence we reported.”

Know Your IX has a growing network of campus activists, but it all started because of one student: Angie Epifano. Her essay, which detailed her experience with sexual assault at Amherst, inspired many and led her college president to announce reforms. Suddenly, sexual assault victims across the country were seeking each other out online and women from other college campuses came forward to file federal complaints under Title IX.

If you’ve seen The Hunting Ground, you’ll recognize Sofie Karasek, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, co-founders of the survivor advocacy group End Rape on Campus, through which they give voice and counsel to survivors of campus sexual assault all around the country. After encountering an environment at their own university that deprived sexual assault survivors of their rights under Title IX, Pino and Clark, together with three other women, filed two federal complaints against The University of North Carolina. Initially dissuaded from speaking publicly by both their university and the media, the two spoke out and connected with students across the country. Karasek filed a federal complaint against her school, the University of California, Berkeley, over accusations that it had mishandled sexual assault cases (including hers). She now has a website dedicated to the assaults at Berkeley.

These women began helping others learn their civil rights and consulted them in filing their own federal complaints. They’ve visited Senator Gillibrand and inspired her to lend her voice and now a bipartisan group of Senators is pursuing legislation to hold universities accountable for how they handle sexual assaults under their jurisdiction. Learn about their latest work at End Rape on Campus here.

Just this month Stanford students made enough noise that a new campus climate survey will be done. The flawed climate survey released in in October kicked off activism on campus. Students and faculty said methodological flaws led to misleading rates of sexual assault, and decried a university press release that led with the stat that “1.9 percent of all students—both male and female, undergraduate and graduate—had experienced sexual assault.” This impossibly low number sent a damaging message to victims of sexual violence as well as the entire student body.

Last week, with nearly 2,000 voting yes the student body passed by 90.6 percent a referendum asking the administration to conduct a new sexual assault climate survey. As of this week, 27 faculty members and more than 90 alumni have signed two separate letters in support of the new survey. The fight isn’t over for transparency and good data but allies from the faculty and alumni communities make student activists even more effective.  

By making their voices heard, these activists have inspired action—from outside campus libraries, to the steps of our national capitol. Their story demonstrates the power of raising your voice to make change on the issues you care about.

Share this video and help us thank these activists for all they’ve done to enact meaningful change for survivors.

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