Marchers made sure the #MeToo conversation continues on campus.
Student Aleeza Kazmi, one of the approximately 250 marchers at Stony Brook University Feb. 28, said the mission of the event was to show support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and to request the university increase preventative measures and provide more assistance for survivors.
Kazmi said it’s important for the university’s administration to respond to the requests, especially with Stony Brook being a HeForShe 10×10×10 IMPACT school. The university is one of 10 schools involved in the UN Women initiative, the United Nations gender equality entity that aims to engage men and boys to encourage the empowerment of women. The student said the university needs to do more for sexual abuse survivors.
“HeForShe is used as a shield and a title and a publicity move for President Stanley and the rest of the administration to say we are here with women, and we support feminism,” Kazmi said.
David Clark, vice president of the student organization Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said when Kazmi came to the student organization with the idea, he agreed that it was needed on campus.
“She wanted to make sure the #MeToo movement was having a bigger conversation on campus,” Clark said. “And, she had some of her own concerns about Stony Brook, while being a HeForShe IMPACT school, not really talking much as far as official statements and events about #MeToo and sexual harassment.”
Before the march, Kazmi read a poem and statement from Arianna Rodriguez. In February, Rodriguez alleged that SBU swimming and diving coach Janelle Atkinson, who was dismissed from her position, emotionally abused members of the team.
“I challenge you to support your friends and fellow classmates who have been victims of sexual assaults and to help guide them back to normalcy,” Kazmi read from Rodriguez’s statement. “And, I challenge all the survivors of sexual assault to continue living normal lives. I know it’s hard at times, but no one is stronger than you are, and your strength will give you the power to live life to the fullest and persevere. No matter who tells you differently.”
Clark said he was pleased to see so many students and some faculty members, both females and males, in attendance.
“We were pretty certain that there were going to be people who were survivors there, whether they said it or not,” Clark said. “We wanted to make sure that they knew that the student body supports them and that they’re in an environment where they are believed and, whether or not they choose to report, that there’s support for survivors here at Stony Brook.”
FMLA also composed a letter that will be submitted to SBU administrators. At press time nearly 100 student groups and organizations, students, alumni, faculty members and community organizations have signed it.
Clark said among their requests, the signers asked in order to maintain the protections of survivors, that the university keep certain practices in place such as letting both parties appeal the rulings of sexual misconduct hearings and prohibiting cross examination between the accused and accuser during sexual misconduct hearings. Clark said members of FMLA are concerned after the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education made changes to Title IX. Among the rights of students it covers in the educational system, the federal civil rights law ensures students involved in sexual
assault and harassment cases are afforded certain protections.
In the letter the protesters also asked for the university to address the issue of Atkinson and the allegations made against her.
Kazmi, a journalism student in her junior year, said she and Clark met with Jeff Barnett, assistant dean of students, a few days before the rally, and with Cathrine Duffy, associate director of student support, March 2. Kazmi and Clark said they feel university administrators have been receptive to the students and their ideas.
“I feel optimistic that the university is going to be open to working with us,” Kazmi said. “I don’t think the university is against increasing awareness for survivors and preventing future sexual assaults.”
After the rally, LeManuel Lee Bitsóí, chief diversity officer at Stony Brook, released a statement supporting the students.
“It was great to see so many SBU community members participate in the #MeToo rally today,” Bitsóí said. “It illustrates the level of engagement by our students around social justice and equity issues and challenges that all of us face in society. Our leadership team is inspired by the activism of student leaders and we collectively support them in their efforts.”
Kazmi, an abuse survivor, said the march was the first time she said, “Me too,” in public. She said at first she questioned why she was organizing and speaking at the event instead of just participating.
“After the march, I realized this is why I did this, because of how many people came and how many people messaged me privately and hugged me afterward and said thank you, because someone needed to do it,” Kazmi said. “And if it was me, and if it caused me some frustrations a couple of days before, that’s OK, because it was completely all worth it. And I’m so proud of every single person who came out and the part of the administration who is going to be working with us moving forward. Our voices are being heard on this campus.”
Post was updated March 6 to reflect additional comments from David Clark, Aleeza Kazmi and LeManuel Lee Bitsóí.