The march began with senior Nachi Conde-Farley’s opening statement explaining that rape culture is a problem in all parts of the world and that Sarah Lawrence student body is invested in ending it in the community. Nachi introduced junior student Alyssa McIntyre to the group. She spoke about her personal experience with the Sarah Lawrence administration’s approach to sexual assault explaining that because of their decision she has to see her assailant on campus. Later, Alyssa said, “I hope this event will bring a change and that it makes people more aware.” Many people felt that the awareness on campus with regards to sexual assault and misconduct is too limited.
Following Alyssa’s speech, senior student, Alia read a poem that was given to her by a faculty member. The poem focused on society’s blaming and stigma against survivors. The crowd was quiet. People were struck by how familiar these shameful phrases were.
After the poem, several people in the crowd pulled scarves over their mouths as a direct challenge against the silence that is forced upon survivors. Not a word was said as the group walked up the hill towards the South Lawn. Clusters of students and staff held each other as they walked. The crowd came together as a community in the face of fear.
When the march reached the South Lawn, each person who wanted to participate was designated a moderator. With certain guidelines to facilitate cooperative and constructive discussion and with rules specifying that the discussion was not a place to specify names of victims or perpetrators, each of the nine groups sat on the South Lawn to discuss rape culture on campus and possible actions that the community could take to prevent further assaults. These groups were a safe space, and with the permission of the members of the group, moderators took notes on constructive suggestions of demands that could be taken to the Sarah Lawrence administration. In the groups, it became clear that many people were scared and frustrated, but now they were ready to channel it and move to action. Larry Hoffman sat in on one of the groups and outlined the way in which the administration responds to any reports of sexual assault. In his explanation, he emphasized that the school tried to approach any reports in a way that was fair to both parties, but while being sensitive to the victim. Hoffman listened carefully to the criticism and suggestion within the group and expressed his intention to continue having an open dialogue with students and to go to the meeting by the Students Against Sexual Assault group on campus.
The planning of the march was sparked over a week ago by the recent string of emails reporting sexual assault on campus. The conversation within the larger community began Monday, September 23rd at 7PM as more than twenty students gathered at the library’s Pillow Room for a meeting organized by Students Against Sexual Assault club. Members discussed their experience with rape culture on campus, the way in which the administration addressed assaults, and then brainstormed possible events and actions the student body could be a part of.
Nachi Conde-Farley, who spearheaded the organization of the march, is determined to not let the conversation about sexual assault end. He said, “I’m just a member of the Sarah Lawrence community. I want us to step up to the fight. We struggle against rape culture and its construct, and as a senior I want to make sure that we will continue to fight against it.”
Since the discussions on campus have inspired so many people to organize events addressing this issue, Nachi plans to make a public forum available via Facebook so that people can be aware of events and offer support to one another.
The next meeting has been scheduled for 7:45 pm on Wednesday, October 2nd at the Pub after the Worker’s Justice Meeting to further discuss the issue and decide on demands that will be sent to the administration. In addition, there will be another march next weekend organized by Alia where the demands will be announced. The specific time of this second march will be decided by Wednesday. Alia stated “if anyone is interested in helping to organize and form the list of demands they should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the Wednesday meeting”.
Alia Shinbrough stated, “It’s really great that so many people came out. We can’t let it end here. We need to keep moving in the right direction.”
Photography by Sophie Needleman