A week ago, nearly 2,000 UVM students spoke out against sexual violence on campus. The rally formed in response to a student who shared her story on social media in late April.
Since then, 300 students have come forward with their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault on campus, according to a student-run Instagram account called Share your Story UVM. Students have also not received a formal apology from administrators.
“When you have this many people coming forward saying I’ve been wronged by the system and this university and without acknowledging the hurt, it doesn’t mean anything,” said UVM senior Syd Ovitt.
Ovit, a member of UVM’s Title IX Student Advisory Committee, founded the student advocacy group Explain the Asterisk, which focuses on sexual violence prevention efforts.
“My freshman year, I reported to the Title IX Office, and it was pretty re-traumatizing,” she said. “You just get to a point in that investigation where you almost give up, and you just wish you had never reported it.”
She says after a long and drawn-out investigation, her alleged attacker was found not responsible, and the case was dropped.
Erica Caloiero, Interim Vice Provost of Student Affairs Erica Caloiero, said the school will respond to students’ demands, including a 24-hour hot line, more victim advocates and a sexual violence response team.
“Since the walkout, I think the sense of solidarity has been very clear,” Caloiero said. “That is incredible emotional labor and also empowering and supportive in and of itself.
“We’ll be communicating with the campus community during the summer. We’ll be communicating the campus community during the fall semester.”
Students also requested an independent investigation into UVM’s Title IX Office. They say investigators have made students feel uncomfortable.
“Both of them have been publicly called out for asking inappropriate questions and not following the standard guidelines,” said Ovitt.
Of the 300 stories submitted to Share Your Story UVM, more than 50 cases of sexual assault were perpetrated by fraternity members. A majority of these survivors were sorority members. Some stories mentioned how their sexual abusers are members of the very organizations and institutions that work to keep campus safe: Student Government Association, Residential Life Advisors, and UVM faculty.
The Instagram account also heard from students who were assaulted by athletes and medical students.
“My first semester, I had a 1.5 GPA because all my finals were right after I was sexually assaulted. I was really trying to do good on my finals,” said Ovitt.
Orvitt says she and her peers are glad to see the university agree with their requests, but they expect to see real change. The faculty of Gender, Sexuality, and Women Studies do, too. They said in a statement:
“In your stories, many of us see our own experiences that have driven us toward the work of gender, sexuality and women’s studies and our commitment to the political activism that is inherent in this work.”
The Department says the school needs to more than agree with students’ demands. They need to enact them.
“Although we are glad to see the administration’s affirmative responses and willingness to meet the demands of the students calling for justice, we agree with the students that the administration must do more than meet with students and agree to their demands — they must follow through and take meaningful actions to provide the funding, institutional support, and structural changes which those demands call for.”
Orvitt says she hopes the turn out at Survivor Solidarity Walkout Monday is the start of a necessary culture shift on campus.
“It was good to see that many people cared,” said Ovitt.