Students at Boston University are pressing the institution to take a tougher stand against sexual violence on campus.
Echoing similar demands on college campuses in the Boston area and around the country, the students are asking administrators to adopt stronger disciplinary procedures and help lead a transformation of the campus culture, which the students say is far too tolerant of sexual misconduct.
“The culture around sexual assault at BU is not okay,” said junior Prisha Sujin Kumar.
Administrators have responded with statements condemning sexual violence, a problem BU President Robert Brown called “reprehensible,” and affirming their commitment to fully investigating allegations of assault. But organizers said they want more specifics.
Kumar helped organize a large protest on campus in the dark, quiet hours after the Super Bowl, in which more than 600 Boston University students plastered the campus with flyers and chalk messages condemning the school’s handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations. The posters peppered dorms, windows, and sidewalks, turning heads and capturing attention on social media the next morning.
“Shame on Boston University,” a message on one building read.
Organizers said they want the university to make a public statement acknowledging sexual misconduct on campus; take a zero-tolerance stance against harassment and assault; create an anonymous reporting system for community members with allegations; and expand resources for BU’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center.
The demonstration at BU was one of many such actions held that weekend at 15 college campuses around the country, under the guidance of the University Survivors Movement, a student-led coalition working to end sexual violence. On the East Coast, students at Tufts, Northeastern, Brown, and Colgate University also took part.
“These universities have a problem,” said Kumar, who penned two open letters about sexual assault at BU this year.
In a statement to the Globe, a BU spokesman said the college will work with the community to determine the “next best steps.”
“We respect our students’ courage and bravery in sharing personal and painful stories, and organizing for change. We also hear their calls for BU to acknowledge and address sexual assault and harassment on campus and ensure that ours is a safe, respectful and caring community,” it read. “The university finds any form of sexual assault or harassment reprehensible.”
A Tufts spokesman said the university investigates sexual misconduct claims “in a comprehensive manner with respect for the rights of all parties.” Northeastern did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The problem of sexual assault on campus has been well-documented, and a concern on campuses for decades. One in five women in college experiences sexual assault, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network estimates the figure is even higher. Among undergraduates, 26.4 percent of female students and 6.8 percent of male students are sexually assaulted through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, the organization has reported.
It’s not clear that the problem at BU is more common than it is at its peer institutions. An Association of American Universities 2019 survey found that BU’s sexual harassment and assault trends were in line with other participating schools.
Still, sexual misconduct is a significant issue on campus. A recent survey found roughly one-third of respondents said they experienced sexual harassment at BU, according to results from BU’s 2019 Campus Climate Survey of Sexual Assault and Misconduct. One-third of undergraduate women reported some type of nonconsensual sexual contact, and one in every seven respondents saw at least one incident of stalking behavior.
Since last summer, dozens of BU students have anonymously voiced sexual assault and harassment allegations on an Instagram profile Kumar started with two peers for survivors nationwide (@campus.survivors). A lengthy, crowdsourced Google document also collected anonymous accounts in June, some of which raised concerns about the university’s handling of misconduct complaints.
One demonstrator in the recent nighttime protest, BU senior Victoria Huang, told the Globe she felt belittled after reporting her alleged assault to the university.
“I felt like I was talking to people who weren’t really listening to me,” Huang said. “Something needs to change.”
Protesters, who followed strict COVID safety protocols, hope their demonstration will push the university to enact stricter policies to protect students.
In an Instagram post, Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore committed to reviewing and evaluating campus assault and harassment policies.
“We want to ensure that these responses and the services we offer are thoughtful and effective,” Elmore wrote. “We want to ensure that our responses, processes, and policies treat us all with dignity and respect.”
In e-mail statements to individual students, Brown said: “Every case that is brought to our attention is fully investigated in accord with federal and state law and regulations, including Title IX, and our own established procedures.”
But multiple students said the responses from administrators lack concrete details about steps BU will take moving forward.
Sophomore and Campus Survivors cofounder Sophia Kim said Elmore’s statement from the college was “like a slap in the face.”
“Do something,” said one commenter on Instagram. “Something specific. Something to prove to students that you might actually give a damn.”
BU student and Campus Survivors cofounder Yashica Kataria said advocates plan to keep the pressure on university officials. Another protest is planned for this spring.
“Students are getting assaulted,” she said, “and are having to live with these incredibly horrifying experiences.”