Sexual assault survivors discussed their experiences, physical and emotional bruises and lasting pain at a protest called Stand with Survivors: March Down Sheridan. At the event, which took place on Friday, students marched from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house to SAE’s national headquarters. The immense crowd then listened to survivors share their stories.
This protest was a response to allegations of drugging and of sexual assault that took place at SAE and an unnamed fraternity. Four women reported being drugged with a date-rape drug at SAE and two reported that they were sexually assaulted. Another woman reported being sexually assaulted with the possibility of the use of a date-rape drug. The reports were received on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 respectively.
Before and after they marched, organizers read a list of principal demands. The demands are currently that “Sigma Alpha Epsilon revoke membership status from its Illinois Psi Omega Chapter,” “Northwestern University expand resources and support for survivors on our campus by increasing funding for the Center for Awareness, Response and Education ... and reinstating counseling services at the Women’s Center” and that the university “reexamines its policies that foster these unsafe conditions for its students.”
As the hundreds of protesters marched down Sheridan, they chanted slogans like “Consent is knowing, voluntary, active, present and ongoing!” and “We want accountability, no more SAE!”
Organizers Amanda Odasz and Paul Salamanca also emphasized that this protest is not only about the recent alleged assaults, but also a larger system of structural violence.
“This is about SAE, but it’s not about SAE,” Odasz said, saying that the protest was also about “a broader system and a broader network of oppression that exists both within fraternities on our campus and I think in the Greek System nationally.”
Sexual assault is not an unusual activity on college campuses: 23.1 percent of undergraduate women and 5.4 percent of undergraduate men are raped or sexually assaulted. Furthermore, a 2007 study showed that fraternity men are three times more likely to rape than other college men. According to Northwestern's Sexual Misconduct Data Report, there were 179 reports of sexual misconduct filed for the 2015-2016 year.
Today’s events began when the university sent out an email to students notifying them of the recent sexual assault reports after which Weinberg junior Asha Sawhney posted a Facebook status that read “Comment if you wanna protest outside of the SAE national headquarters that are grossly located on our campus.” The status received 90 comments and over 200 likes. Eventually, interested students started a Facebook group and a Facebook event. Friday’s events took place just four days after the status was posted. On the Facebook event, 583 people said they were going, 502 said they were interested, and another 3,100 were invited.
Both survivors and allies of all different backgrounds (including race, gender identity and Greek involvement) attended the event. Organizers stressed that this was a survivor centered event. They read documents like Title IX, Northwestern’s definition of consent, and criticized SAE’s definition of a “True Gentleman," saying that the “toxic masculinity” exhibited by these “gentlemen” allow them to oppress others. They also told the IFC men in the crowd that they needed to hold their brothers accountable.
Organizer and sexual assault survivor Hannah Merens told NBN that allies should know that “when a survivor comes to you, it is truly the bravest and most vulnerable and humiliating exchange that could take place and it is a gift that is being given. You have to know to say that it’s not your fault and that you believe them and that they have options.”
SAE’s national headquarters, Northwestern’s chapter of SAE and the University were all unable to be reached for comment.
Margaux MacColl contributed reporting
Editor’s note: Asha Sawhney is currently NBN’s Identities Editor.