Day 1: Student activists demonstrate in protest of Title IX office for over 15 hours, Zachary Shevin and Claire Silberman | May 8, 2019
Shortly after 4:30 p.m. on May 7, six student activists walked up the front steps of Nassau Hall to deliver a list of demands related to the University’s Title IX policy to the University administration. Outside, over seventy protesters carried signs and chanted, “In the service of survivors, fix Title IX,” nearly drowning out the moments of conversation indoors. Throughout the day, blankets, backpacks, and posters laid scattered across the lawn in front of Nassau Hall as students staged a sit-in to protest the Title IX office’s handlings sexual misconduct complaints.
From the protest’s beginning at 10 a.m. to the time of the walk-in, sit-in attendees crowdsourced and deliberated over the list of eleven demands via Google Docs and Forms.
The list detailed how the students believed the University’s Title IX procedures could improve. Suggestions included the creation of a “comprehensive document detailing the Title IX process,” the hiring of a “group of full-time professional social workers independent of the Title IX office, Share [Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education], and Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to help survivors navigate the Title IX system,” and “the immediate departmentalization of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.”
Additionally, protesters have demanded “the immediate dismissal of Regan Crotty as the Title IX coordinator, and the review of Michele Minter as Chief Compliance Officer of Title IX.” Originally, protesters considered calling for Minter’s immediate dismissal as well but eventually decided against doing so.
“I was really amazed at how collaborative of a process it was,” noted participant Chase Hommeyer ’19. “It wasn’t that a team of leaders decided what demands were best for everybody.”
Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun told several of the protesters that although the University would respond promptly, the initial response would not necessarily address all of their demands.
Ultimately, Aisha Tahir ’21 said that the group decided to think about radically reforming University policy and aimed to “reach for the stars” with their demands.
“We can’t compromise before we go to the negotiating table,” one student said during the drafting process.
“We’re not the ones being unreasonable. The University is being unreasonable,” another participant added.
Around 3 p.m., the students decided to sort their demands into three overarching categories, “Transparency and Accountability,” “Procedural Changes,” and “Campus Culture.”
Maya Aronoff ’19 was vocal during the discussion and said the demands proposed by the organizers are “really great.” As a Residential College Advisor (RCA), Aronoff said she feels very strongly about the demands centered around shifting campus culture and preventing assault from occurring in the first place.
“Something’s clearly broken about the way things are happening because we have such high rates of sexual violence,” Aronoff said. “When we have a more transparent process, and we have a more clearly defined process, and we have a more equal process, everybody benefits and the campus becomes safer for everyone involved.”
Later, six students, Hommeyer, Madeleine Le Cesne ’19, Rebecca Sobel ’19, KiKi Gilbert ’21, Malka Himelhoch ’21, and Erica Dugue ’21, were escorted into Nassau Hall and received by Calhoun. Most of the students escorted in either helped lead the demonstration or had previous experience dealing with the Title IX office.
Sobel, who presented the list to Calhoun, said the group demands that the list be reviewed by 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 8, and that President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 make a commitment to honor the proposals.
Though she said she did not expect a warm welcome, Hommeyer noted that she expected being able to either tape or slide the demands on or under Eisgruber and Minter’s office doors, but the six students were not permitted beyond the lobby.
“We can certainly give you a response,” Calhoun said to the protesters. “It is unlikely that we’re going to give you a response that will respond to all of your demands. We’re just receiving them, and we’re giving you the honor of taking them seriously and reviewing them.”
Hommeyer said she considers this response unacceptable, considering that “there aren’t that many demands.”
“We asked her if President Eisgruber was there. She said he was out of town, and as soon as we started asking, ‘Where out of town? Do you know what business he’s conducting?,’ she became frustrated with us,” Hommeyer said.
Madeleine Le Cesne ’19 was disappointed but unsurprised by Calhoun’s response.
“I felt like I was a scolded child, but she was also smiling. It was bizarre,” she said. “I am skeptical that the University is going to [implement] the demands because they always find a way to skirt around real change and protect their reputation.”
The University has not placed any limit on the length of time students can organize, but per University regulation, they are not permitted to sleep outside.
“The University takes seriously its mission to support the free expression of all views and we absolutely support and defend the right of students to participate in peaceful protest activities such as the sit-in outside Nassau Hall,” University spokesperson Ben Chang wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince.’ “We remain committed to the values and standards we share to ensure everyone in the community is heard, respected, and cared for.”
Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne was present at the protest but declined to comment to the ‘Prince.’
Protesters began to sign up for shifts in order to keep people outside of Nassau Hall for the entirety of the night. With rain projected overnight, protesters began collecting umbrellas and tarps around 8 p.m.
At dusk, students gathered for a meeting to reflect on Tuesday’s sit-in and discuss short and long term plans going forward. The group floated the idea of a tiered reaction system, depending on the University’s reactions — with potential protests, including hourly demonstrations on the steps of Nassau Hall on Wednesday and lining the streets of the P-Rade at Reunions, circulating a no-donation pledge among alumni.
Around 9:15 p.m., it began to rain. At 9:35 p.m., the University issued a “Lightning Warning” via TIGERALERTS, advising students to “seek shelter inside the closest building immediately,” and to “avoid standing under tents.”
The protesters also plan on repeatedly emailing Eisgruber until 11 a.m. tomorrow. The template email to Eisgruber demands his “commitment to executing each of our eleven calls for reform, in a public statement to the students, faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees of this university, by 11 a.m. on the morning of May 8th” and includes a link to the demands.
As of Tuesday night, the protesters had advice from a lawyer familiar with Title IX who suggested that some of the demands — namely those which asked for compounded violations (those which deal with racist/(cis)sexist/homophobic/ableist/transphobic violence) to “be considered with[in] an intersectional framework” and those which asked for more transparency — could be in violation of federal Title IX law.
“Despite the fact that we are focusing on reforming Title IX, that doesn’t mean that Title IX is the only part that’s broken,” Sobel said. “Specifically about the cases that don’t fall under Title IX, we’re talking to legal experts about how to navigate that ... Those are ongoing conversations.”
The demonstration comes in the wake of multiple other Title IX protests over the course of the last month, including “Title IX protects rapists” graffiti found in different locations on campus and a protest outside of Firestone Library.
The protest also follows the creation of a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the fine an anonymous student received for the initial graffiti. Within three hours, the campaign surpassed its goal of $2,723. As of now, the fundraiser has raised nearly $4,000 for the student.
“Her rapist is not facing any punishment, but the University decided to put all its effort into disciplining her for the writing she was doing,” Hommeyer said. “It showed that the University cares more about protecting its fancy buildings instead of actually protecting and supporting its students.”
Hommeyer reached out to three University officials, Calhoun, Dean of the College Jill Dolan, and Dean of Rockefeller College Justine Levine, hoping they would take a personal stand against the University’s punishment.
“Jill Dolan responded saying, amongst other things, it is important that the University take defacement of public property seriously,” Hommeyer said. “Of all the things she thinks we should take seriously, defacement of public property is the one she chose to respond to my email with.”