Students interrupt classrooms in protest of sexual violence

Students interrupt classrooms in protest of sexual violence


October 19, 2018

Demonstrators with #deisbelieve interrupted at least three classrooms on Monday, carrying signs and banners advocating against sexual violence, before holding a sit-in at the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) atrium.

The hashtag #deisbelieve refers to an organization of Brandeis students who, last week, held a protest on the Rabb steps in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. According to their Instagram page, the group has the goal of bringing “awareness and solidarity to sexual violence survivors on college campuses.”

Kristen Mascall (CHEM), the professor of an organic chemistry class which was interrupted sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Monday, told The Brandeis Hoot she was surprised when demonstrators entered her classroom. “I wasn’t sure of what I was supposed to do,” she said. “Was I supposed to stop lecture or continue with lecture? So I just continued.”

“I’m hoping that they were able to get their message across with what they’re trying to accomplish and I’m sorry if it seemed disrespectful or anything of their protest,” she continued. “That was not my intention.”

Thomas Murdy ’21, a student in attendance at the organic chemistry class which was interrupted, told The Hoot, “I was impressed…They definitely did their job…Overall what they did was really effective so they should feel really proud of what they did because it definitely got the message across.”

Demonstrators also interrupted Programming in Java taught by Professor Antonella Di Lillo (COSI) and Introduction to Psychology taught by Professor Ellen Wright (PSYC).

“I think it’s really important to remember that at Brandeis, we all represent a diversity of opinions, backgrounds and personal feelings, and I want my classroom, my office, my contacts all to reflect that,” Wright told The Hoot.

Di Lillo did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

A “Statement on Campus Protests” from Dean of Students Jamele Adams, which was delivered to students in a campus-wide email on Wednesday, thanked Brandeis students for “working together to support the survivors of sexual harassment and assault on our campus and beyond.”

The email, which included a link to The Student’s Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, noted that “Our code of conduct also requires that teaching and learning should not be interrupted” but that “these standards were not honored in recent protests.”

The Rights and Responsibilities Handbook notes in Section 2.3 that “Obstructing or disrupting teaching, research, or administrative, public service, disciplinary, or other authorized University functions is unacceptable.”

The university does not shut down protests “provided safety is not compromised and university functions, including classes, are not disrupted,” the email noted.

The email from Adams also reminded students to “consider the unintended consequences your actions might have on members of the community who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. Some survivors may not be ready to participate in or be confronted by protest, and all students should feel safe attending classes.”

Provost Lisa Lynch told The Hoot via email, “I appreciate and value that many in our community are searching for productive ways to address issues of sexual misconduct and to support the survivors in our community.” She echoed Adams comments that interrupting classrooms was unacceptable.

A Monday night instagram post from @DeisBelieve stated that the interruption of classes was intended to be “a provocative statement about the erasure of survivors in classrooms.”

“Sexual assault does not disappear in academic spaces; survivors carry this burden into class,” the post read. “By not standing with or not believing survivors, the university is asking survivors to discard a part of themselves and just show up to class as purely students.”

“We want to recognize the concerns of individuals that were triggered or were made uncomfortable by our demonstrations. We apologize for the multitude of ways in which our demonstration might have caused harm to survivors,” the post noted. It said the group is working on changing their tactics and language in future demonstrations.

A reporter from The Hoot reached out several times to demonstrators at the sit-in. “We are not giving statements or talking to the press, any of us here,” Kavita Sundaram ’20, a student who participated in the sit-in, told The Hoot. “We’re going to ask right now if you’re taking notes on this please do not include our names,” she later told The Hoot. The Hoot chose not to heed these requests due to the public nature of the event and the newspaper’s ethics policy which requires that we “identify sources whenever feasible.”

At about 1 p.m., demonstrators at the sit-in collectively read aloud the statement they had dispersed to passerbys and participants. The statement highlights the importance of their hashtag, #BrandeisBelieveSurvivors, which, according to the statement, is “a radical demand to our faculty of students, administration and staff to address the dearth of dialogues surrounding the political climate and sexual assault cases.”

The hand-out also asked “if you are faculty and in solidarity with our mission, please share this amongst your department and with colleagues from other institutions to bring further awareness.”

Following the reading of their statement the group sang two songs. The lyrics of the first song, “Rich Man’s House,” centered on the first person narrator taking back what the “rich man took,” things such as “my dignity” and “my humanity.”

The second song they sang, titled “Courage,” contained the lyrics “Courage. My friend. You do not walk alone. We will, we will, walk with you, walk with you and sing your spirit home.” Demonstrators at the sit-in who sang along with the song replaced “courage” with words such as “freedom,” “justice” and “liberty” in repetitions of this refrain. A version of the song on notes that the song originated as an anti-apartheid song which was “sung as protestors were being taken to jail.”

Word of the sit-in first came from a post on the group’s Instagram account. “At 12 PM tomorrow join us outside Bernstein-Marcus for a sit in against sexual violence” read the Sunday night post. “Note this is a silent protest,” the post read.

The demonstrators never rallied outside of Bernstein-Marcus and instead sat on the first floor of the SCC where the approximately 30 students held signs, worked on computers, read books or talked amongst each other.

Last week demonstrators rallied on the Rabb Steps as students moved to and from classes. The statement provided by the demonstrators noted that they plan to continue with these rallies throughout the month of October, which is also domestic violence awareness month. “A collective group of students are rallying to amplify the voices of survivors and victims whose stories have been afterthoughts on our political agendas. Time’s up on waiting. Time’s up on tolerance. Time’s up on discrimination, harassment and abuse,” the handout also says, in conjunction with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement

Demonstrators also attempted to hang signs from railings on the second and third of the SCC. A sign hung on a railing halfway up to the second floor read “Brandeis we feel your silence #BrandeisBelieveSurvivors.” An employee at the SCC told demonstrators that they could not hang signs or banners without the permission from the Student Activities Office and the banner that had already been hung would be removed. As of 4 p.m., almost two hours after the conclusion of the sit-in, the banner hung by demonstrators had not been removed.


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