By Jorie Dybcio
Behind closed doors lie identities stripped and dignities broken. Behind closed doors lie gender-less humans seeking justice. Closing those doors is an entire community turning a blind eye to the existence of rape culture on North Park campus. However, for the week of April 11–15, North Parkers decided to open the doors proudly. Criticism had nothing on the three students heading the North Park Unites movement: Sam Van Pykeren, Rachel Boge and Carmi Mueller.
The week began with pads being pasted around campus. They read “Imagine if people were as disgusted with rape as they were with periods” followed by statistics portraying the severity of assault. For example, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men are victim to sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Dean of students and Title IX coordinator, Elizabeth Fedec, says that "the administration was aware they would be posting pads and statistics around campus" and the senior team leadership was similarly informed. Fedec also met with the three student leaders several times prior to the event, discussing plans and providing guidance for raising awareness.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, sheets were hung around campus with powerful images and phrases. These actions to raise awareness were approved by administration prior to their occurrence. For the most part, the art was well-received by students. However, a few reactions proved the point they desired to make: students getting more upset by strong imagery than the fact of sexual assault being a dark reality on our campus.
Not all were entirely behind the movement, as campus security had an issue with this form of awareness. In the midst of decorating campus on Monday, the student leaders were approached by security and asked not to put the pads up due to the arrival of major donors. Boge recalls being asked by an officer to "avoid certain buildings ... because these 'important' people on campus did not need to see this." In an interview, Head of Security Dan Gooris said "We're behind you ... but out of courtesy to the development office to stay away from that day." Registration for new students was also happening on the same day, with Gooris recalling he would have preferred another day for the awareness event to occur. This push back from security was echoed by several students as well.
Boge says that the response to Sexual Assault Awareness week surprised her. "The beginning of the week made me see people for who they really are, not how I wanted to see them. Many people think sexual assault is wrong but their actions reflected misogyny," she says. With sexual assault being a serious and controversial topic, this sort of backlash was to be expected, and it opened many pockets of conversation.
Predominantly these conversations took place over social media, causing comments and intentions to be received negatively by some—expression is difficult to perceive behind a screen. Regardless of how people were affected by the Facebook posts, it got the campus talking, which is the first step to diminishing rape culture on campus.
Many of these incidents were reconciled through conversation and assembly on
Thursday and Friday. Thursday was a time to dissect the week’s events and discuss what changes need to be seen within the North Park community. The night was intended as a time to make posters for the rally on Friday and watch The Hunting Ground, which is a documentary highlighting the mishandling of sexual assault cases on college campuses. It also was a safe space for a healthy reflection on the week thus far and how the movement was to continue.
It was time of bonding for North Park students in which they could share their
feelings, stories and ideas for the movement. It also became an overview of
what the movement was to look like in the future, not only through a change in culture but also policy. Van Pykeren, Boge and Mueller displayed their desire for legislation over the course of the week’s activism.
The legislation put forth by students includes a reform for how interim measures function on campus. During a Title IX investigation, interim measures are taken to protect the victim from the person they are making a claim against. If claims aren't substantiated by those measures then they are not active during the appeal process. The goal is for the victim to have protection from the moment the claim is made.
In addition, the legislation aims to reform education of sexual assault on campus. Currently, before entering a first semester at North Park, students are required to take an online course on sexual assault, but most students decide to rush through it. Then, the first week there's normally a skit or a video using humor and tea metaphors. Instead of using such humor to seemingly underplay the seriousness of rape, this legislation wants to increase the education surrounding Title IX, especially for student leaders.
According to the student leaders, the legislation also addresses emergency services and counseling. The only time to get support on campus is during the typical 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. health services. However, rape doesn’t fit a schedule. It is an epidemic that requires 24-hour emergency service, as well as STI checks and rape kits, which is a prominent reproductive rights issue in itself. These are not available at North Park, however, local healthcare providers such as the Swedish Covenant ER do offer these services.
These changes would be revolutionary for North Park and would make the campus a model of how universities should approach Title IX cases. While the legislation will be huge for administration and their power to make a change, that doesn’t mean the perpetuation of rape culture will altogether disappear in the North Park community. The legislation has yet to be submitted to administration.
On Friday, students and staff came together to make their voices heard through chants, poetry and storytelling. The rally on the compass had a turnout of about fifty students and staff. This was the first time North Park students have publicly
come together to share their stance on sexual assault, and the first opportunity
for many students to publicly declare themselves as survivors.
North Park’s distinct unity as a campus has never been more obvious as people of all groups came together to end rape culture. At the start of the week, the North Park community as a whole wasn’t actively aware that rape culture was perpetuating itself on our campus; as many students claim, they didn’t even think it was an issue. Boge says, “even though there were students who seemed like they didn’t want to be involved in the movement a change of heart was noticed by the end of the week.”
The momentum from the Unite movement on campus will hopefully continue to radiate respect, support and reform in the lives of North Park students. Boge wants everyone to know this: "You have the power to use your voice. Momentum from this week will continue to come from a community walking alongside our voices. It is incredibly difficult but we all have the ability to change something." Everyone on campus has much to learn from the Unite movement, and to recognize their ability to contribute to the revolution.