OSAC ‘We Demand More’ demonstration and teach-in address sexual assault on campus

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Student protesters and Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) members march to Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Content warning: This article contains discussions of rape culture on campus.

Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) hosted a march and demonstration Nov. 12 to call for accountability for sexual assault and share a list of demands of the college. OSAC first shared the list via Instagram Nov. 4, which included hiring more staff in the Project SAFE and Title IX offices, expanding sexual misconduct prevention trainings and providing more clarity around survivor advocacy and resources. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 27 this year, 29 cases of sexual misconduct were reported to the Title IX office, more than three times the reported cases during the same time period in 2019.

According to Theo Kohler-White (junior), who attended the demonstration, the content was painful but important.

“I think the people that spoke, a lot of them had a lot of power behind their voices and I was really happy to see that,” Kohler-White said. “Just taking it all in was really heavy. But with no negativity attached to that, just like a lot to be feeling.”

OSAC also hosted a teach-in on the Academic Quad Nov. 10 to educate participants about topics such as rape culture and male accountability, both within and outside of Occidental.

Tirzah Blanche, Project SAFE manager and survivor advocate, and Alexandra Fulcher, Title IX coordinator, speak at the teach-in regarding sexual assault at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

OSAC’s teach-in discussed rape culture at Occidental and what students can do to recognize it. Mia Villegas (senior), who has gone through trauma-informed training, spoke about myths regarding sexual assault and rape culture at Occidental. Survivor Advocate and Project SAFE Manager Tirzah Blanche and Title IX Coordinator Alexandra Fulcher spoke about the resources currently available for survivors on campus through their respective offices.

According to OSAC member G Northway (sophomore), OSAC planned the teach-in after they planned the demonstration.

“We were thinking, ‘People should know what they’re marching for.’ I think that if people aren’t educated, it’s more of a hollow, surface-level event,” Northway said. “That’s why we decided to hold the teach-in — so that people who are super interested will have the actual knowledge, and therefore the passion, to come to the demonstration.”

The demonstration began at the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC) with a brief introduction from OSAC members about rape culture at Occidental. Participants were encouraged to wear black. The group of demonstrators marched to the Occidental Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) house to drop off “letters to rape culture.”

Students march back from Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house as part of Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition’s (OSAC) protest against sexual assault at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

OSAC posted in a Nov. 5 statement via Instagram that they chose to march to the SAE house because they see the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture, and because several SAE chapters across the country have been the subject of high-profile sexual assault investigations.

“We think this positionality is valuable to show how rape culture at Oxy is connected to rape culture at other college and university campuses,” the statement read. “We want to emphasize that our march to SAE is not meant to target individuals, but the system as a whole — it is symbolic.”

In an email statement to The Occidental, the California Epsilon chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) said it supports the OSAC demonstration, and has plans to meet with the organization.

“The California Epsilon chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon commends OSAC’s efforts to make Occidental a safe place for all students, shares their commitment to eliminating instances of sexual violence at the College and supports their organization’s right to demonstrate outside of our house,” SAE said in a statement to The Occidental.

After the part of the demonstration outside the SAE house, the group walked back to the AGC, where OSAC members shared resources available to participants, such as the Intercultural Community Center (ICC) as a space for students of color. OSAC then shared their demands, directing them to President Harry J. Elam, who was in attendance.

According to Eleanor Alvarez (senior), a member of OSAC, Elam was welcome to attend the reading of OSAC’s demands, but OSAC asked him not to be present for survivor testimonials, so as not to intimidate those sharing their stories.

The main section of the demonstration consisted of testimonials from survivors of assault and other forms of gender-based violence. Some were anonymous submissions read by organizers, according to OSAC members.

Students on the steps by Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC) listen to Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) members discuss the demands for the Occidental College administration in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

The demonstration concluded with members of OSAC calling on participants to recall anything that angered them from the day. Participants then wrote these feelings or other comments on sticky notes and stuck them to the glass walls of the AGC.

According to Fulcher, survivors were able to share their stories at the demonstration without fear of reports being filed.

“Any survivor testimonials that are shared in the context of that demonstration won’t be considered reportable for responsible employee obligations because we want survivors to feel like they can share their experiences without being afraid that someone might overhear it and report it back to me,” Fulcher said.

Kohler-White said she appreciated that OSAC members spoke at the demonstration because of how difficult discussing campus sexual assault can be.

“I just feel really thankful for them and for their voices on campus, because not everyone is able to speak up like that, and not everyone is able to mobilize and make stuff happen,” Kohler-White said. “I think it’s really important to have people that are willing to break social norms and call out behavior that is uncomfortable, but none of us are calling out.”

In meetings with Elam, Fulcher and Dean of Students Rob Flot throughout the semester, members of OSAC shared their concerns regarding a lack of resources for survivors and were initially frustrated with vague timelines for future plans from the administrators, Alvarez said.

“OSAC has been working with administration since 2017 now, but hasn’t had something like a demonstration in a long time. So, that could be meaningful for people in a different way,” Alvarez said.

Students hold signs while protesting outside of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house off campus at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

In a campus-wide email Nov. 1, Elam shared the college’s plans to provide more resources for survivors and further information regarding reports of sexual misconduct. The email detailed plans to hire more employees for Project SAFE and the Title IX Office and to update sexual misconduct training, among other steps.

“Informed in part by the student feedback provided in the recent listening sessions held by Project SAFE — many thanks to all those who participated — as well as in direct meetings with other students, the Title IX Coordinator, and staff in Project SAFE, we want to highlight the steps we have taken this semester, and future actions to which we are committed,” Elam said in the Nov. 1 email.

According to Northway, OSAC decided to publish their formal list of demands Nov. 4 because they did not believe the latest update contained sufficient resources for assault survivors.

“After they released what they [the administration] were going to do, it was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough. That’s when we typed it [the list of demands] up formally,” Northway said.

Emmons 24/7 Confidential Hotline: (323) 341-4141

The Project SAFE/Survivor Advocate office is located on the bottom floor of Stewart-Cleland (Stewie) Hall

Survivor Advocate: survivoradvocate@oxy.edu

Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition: oxysexualassaultcoalition1@gmail.com

Students make signs to carry as they march from the steps by Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC) to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house outside of Occidental’s campus in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental
Students carry protest signs as they march to Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental
A student marches with a sign to Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house as part of the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) protest in Los Angeles, CA. Nov, 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental
Students hold signs while protesting outside of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house off campus at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov 12, 2021. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

This article was updated at 2:48 p.m. Nov. 17 to clarify that Mia Villegas is not a member of OSAC.