UC Berkeley students speak out against sexual violence at Sproul Plaza rally

Joshua Jordan/Staff

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About 50 students gathered on Sproul Plaza on Thursday to speak out against the administration’s handling of sexual assault and harassment cases and to raise awareness for survivors.

ASUC Senator Marandah Field-Elliot, along with her office, organized the speak out “in light of recent mishandling of … sexual harassment cases.” Field-Elliot added that the speak out was largely in response to the campus’s handling of the sexual harassment allegations against former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry.

“Your story is important, your story is true, your story is valid,Field-Elliot said on stage, referring to the experiences of survivors of sexual violence.    

A black wall covered from edge to edge in brightly colored messages from students to survivors served as a backdrop for the speak out. The wall was erected Monday by the Solidarity Project, an organization focused on raising awareness for the issue of sexual violence on campus.   

Students spoke about their personal experiences with sexual violence and encouraged other survivors to find support in the campus community.

“It is so important to build community and support among each other,” said Thea Matthews, a campus student, during the speak out. “What combats hate most is love.”

Speakers expressed concern over the tendency to place the responsibility of sexual violence prevention on the victim, and some students urged the community to focus on sexual violence education and holding perpetrators responsible.

“We’ve seen with sexual assault cases that the victim is always blamed,” said Shruti Patrachari, a campus student who attended the speak out. “It’s about holding the suspect accountable.”

As speakers repeatedly called for justice throughout the event, many ended their speeches optimistically.

“I survived sexual violence and I’m OK,” Matthews said during the speak out.

The speak out is just the start of conversations about how to handle sexual violence cases on campus, Field-Elliot said, adding that dialogue on campus should become more frequent and more in depth.

“We need to talk about the power dynamic that exists (between different campus members),” Field-Elliot said. “It can easily be manipulated and can leave a survivor to feel trapped.”

Campus sophomore Giovanni D’Ambrosio — who has worked in the PATH to Care Center  is collaborating with Field-Elliot to provide resources for students navigating the sexual misconduct reporting process. Field-Elliot said the two are working with Kawanna Leggett, director of residential education, to implement a new workshop in the future.

“I was really happy that lots of people wanted to speak and share their stories,” Field-Elliot said. “It was important to elevate survivors’ voices.”

Contact Hyunkyu Lee and Talia Wenger at [email protected].