Within three hours of being posted on Friday, May 3, a student-run GoFundMe campaign called “Support Survivors Fighting for Title IX Reform” had surpassed its goal of $2,723. By noon, the campaign link had spread to the inboxes and group chats of almost every group on campus. Now, it has raised over $3,800.
The desired amount, $2,723, was based on the fine that an anonymous student received for writing “Title IX Protects Rapists” on University walkways in April. The graffiti, which was written in thin permanent marker, has since been removed, though the phrase reappeared among messages spray-painted around campus last week. The anonymous student also faces “50 hours of community service and 4 years of probation,” according to the campaign.
“The University's treatment of this student is egregious and unacceptable,” said Jamie O’Leary '19, one of the fundraiser’s organizers and a SHARE peer, a student who acts as a confidential resource for student victims of sexual misconduct. “The student spoke out against a system that is profoundly broken and has hurt so many survivors, and the University gave them an extremely severe punishment.”
University spokesperson Ben Chang said that the University does not comment on student disciplinary proceedings, but reaffirmed its commitment to free expression.
“Let us be clear: Students are not disciplined for participating in peaceful protests or speech — students are subject to discipline if they deface and damage University property,” Chang said. “The range of penalties imposed by the University in vandalism cases may include suspension or probation, campus service, and required restitution, with the amount tied directly to the cost of repairing the damage to University property.”
But to some, the punishment appeared unfairly severe and failed to address the underlying issues of the protest. 235 donors — many of them students offering $10 or $20 — expressed their support, and others commented various forms of the message “I stand with survivors.” The campaign also caught the attention of faculty.
Professor Su Friedrich, who has taught documentary filmmaking and other courses in the University’s visual arts department for 22 years, commented about her frustrations surrounding the punishment in the GoFundMe campaign’s comment section.
“This shocks me to the ground,” Friedrich wrote in her post. “I am so furious that the University admin would slam a student like this, and for what she did.”
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Friedrich said “even if Princeton has a policy about graffiti, it seems that in this case they would've taken into account what the graffiti was about and not handled it in the same way as somebody just tagging a building.”
Although Friedrich could not generalize for all faculty, she was totally unaware of protests relating to Title IX before receiving a link to the fundraiser.
“I think if students have complaints against the University they should be extremely vocal and they should assume that there would be faculty who would support them,” Friedrich said.
In a brief email to University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, Friedrich expressed her concern about the severity of the punishment and questioned the University’s justification. The primary interest, Friedrich explained, is the student.
“It hasn't affected me personally but it has affected the student really profoundly,” Friedrich said. “So that's what I care about.”
For Friedrich, the aim is not to get a response or to fundamentally change the system, but to encourage student voices and highlight injustices. She argued that “I don't think there's anything quite as effective as bodies in a room yelling at the top of their lungs and embarrassing the University.”
Friedrich felt that the punishment levied against the student was prohibitive. “It doesn’t seem like just a simple matter of, you know, pay us back for what we have to spend to clean this up,” she said. “I think the punitive aspect of it is really what makes me kind of nauseated.”
Friedrich added that she doesn’t feel the University has been effective in handling causes of sexual harassment and rape, and that the bad publicity of this punishment might incentivize the administration to make broader reforms.
This aligned with the aims of O’Leary and other campaign organizers, who wanted to provide urgently needed support to a student and to express solidarity for the protests against Title IX and the University’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.
“If the University was interested in protecting its students, it would listen and give weight to student complaints,” O’Leary said. “Instead, the Title IX process protects the University, its revenue sources, and its reputation at every turn.”
Camille Liotine ’20 has been at the forefront of these student complaints. Last month, Liotine participated in a demonstration at Firestone Library, delivering a statement about the flaws in the Title IX system. On a gray afternoon the day after the GoFundMe took off, the ‘Prince’ sat down to speak with Liotine about the protests.
“Title IX is traumatizing in itself, but when you pile on the fact that it's a broken system and that people go in with one expectation and come out having their world turned upside down, it really just hurts so many people,” Liotine said, “in ways that won't be undone for a very long time.”
To Liotine, the problem starts at the beginning of a student’s career at the University, when they complete an online training course about consent before arriving on campus for their first year. This course is organized and administered by SHARE.
“[The training] refuses to acknowledge that people that assault others, they don't care about what you say,” Liotine said. “So there needs to be a concrete plan for students that are in these really bad situations, because they happen, and SHARE doesn't have that.”
Currently, SHARE acts as an advocacy and support service for students that have survived sexual misconduct, offering advice, referrals, and counseling. SHARE can direct students to the University’s Title IX office, but Liotine and other protesters feel that criminal issues such as rape should not be handled by the University.
“SHARE basically contributes to the self-contained nature of these incidents that the University is trying to propagate,” Liotine said. “The University really doesn't want people to go to the police, they want people to go to Title IX because there's a greater chance that there will be less bad publicity, in my opinion.”
O’Leary said that “there are dozens and dozens of survivors who have had horrible and unacceptable experiences with Title IX.”
Both Liotine and O’Leary have found it difficult to make their grievances about Title IX heard.
“So far, much of the reaction I've gotten from the administration is that 'you're just a very upset person. You need to seek counseling, you need to seek help,’” Liotine said. “First we have to acknowledge there's a problem, which still no one at this school has done.”
Liotine explained that a group of students had attempted to bring concerns to Eisgruber, who directed them to the Title IX office, which declined to speak with them.
O’Leary expressed similar frustration, saying that “we have yet to hear any response from the administration other than meaningless platitudes about free speech.”
For the student that the GoFundMe is working to support, campaign organizers view the punishment as an attempt to silence and dismiss student protests.
“I think the issue that the GoFundMe is bringing up, which this is the important part, is that this person admitted to what they did — they were honest about it. And because they were honest, they got this really really harsh punishment,” Liotine said. “Their assaulter, apparently, got no punishment at all.”
“Numerous survivors have shared that their assailants were either not found guilty at all or were found guilty and were only given disciplinary probation,” O’Leary added.
The GoFundMe campaign has been effective in rapidly fostering student awareness for damaging Title IX experiences. The campaign summary argues that the Title IX process is opaque and self-perpetuating, that it advantages the wealthy, and that it leaves some victims traumatized.
“I hope this sends a strong message to the Princeton administration that we reject their actions against this student and their resistance to change, we stand behind survivors, and we demand that Title IX be reformed,” O’Leary said.
The extra money from the campaign will go to support Womanspace, a non-University group that offers resources and counsel to assault survivors.
Liotine added that this campaign is only one step in pushing the movement forward, and that there are plans for another protest in the near future.
“From what I hear,” Liotine said, “there will be a lot of people.”