One woman said she was sexually assaulted on the third day of school at Rutgers. Another said he was assaulted at a high school party. More than a few who attended a rally on the Rutgers campus Wednesday night said they had been molested as young children and were not believed by their families.
More than 70 Rutgers students and faculty gathered with signs and bullhorns to vent their anger about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaughs’ possible confirmation, despite the allegation he had attempted to sexually assault a high school classmate.
But the #StopKavanaugh rally in New Brunswick Wednesday night — one of the dozens of protests organized around the country — took on a local urgency.
The Rutgers faculty union, the AAUP-AFT, one of the rally’s sponsors, urged attendees to read an NJ Advance Media report published Wednesday morning about the university’s sexual harassment policy.
In most cases, Rutgers Office of Employment Equality had declined to investigate complaints that were more than two years old — a policy which had denied many people coming forward in the #metoo era, who were once afraid to speak out and risk alienating their academic mentors, the report said.
Within hours, university President Robert Barchi said he was immediately repealing the two-year investigation limitation and ordered an evaluation of the office that investigates complaints. “We must send a clear message of our commitment to pursue any complaint of sexual harassment or misconduct for which evidence and witnesses remain,” Barchi said.
Mary D’Anella-Mercanti, a student who joined the rally, said Barchi’s actions were not enough and too late.
“If he had been in tune with what is happening…if he communicated with the people who run this university, then this would not have happened,” D’Anella-Mercanti said. “Don’t think for one second this university works for you.”
The students’ anger quickly gave way to tears and stories about their own sexual assault. The rally was co-sponsored by Rutgers NO MORE, a student-run advocacy organization which aims to end sexual violence.
“It’s not just sadness we feel. It’s rage,” said one student, a recent graduate who shared her own experience of repeat sexual violence.
“We believe you! We believe survivors!” the crowd chanted.
Mark Hopkins, a senior, said it was up to men to challenge misogynistic behavior when they see it.
“Many of you have male privileges, have platforms, to hold each other accountable,” Hopkins said. “Don’t go to those…parties, don’t go to those fraternity events and not hold them accountable for the bull—- that they do!”
Deepa Kumar, president of the faculty union, urged the students to feel optimistic and empowered.
“We take courage in the fact that (Christine) Blasey Ford came forward,” Kumar said, referring to the woman, a psychologist in California who accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her.
“We stand behind Prof. Cynthia Daniels and the group of six professors who want to bring about meaningful change here at Rutgers around how sexual harassment complaints are investigated,” Kumar said.
Daniels and five other veteran political science professors told NJ Advance Media they had written a letter to the university in March asking Rutgers to repeal the two-year rule and make other changes that would make it easier for students to come forward.
“It’s truly appalling we do not take these claims seriously and give them the attention and the resources that are necessary to get justice for the victims,” she said.