Student, alumnae march on Saint Mary’s campus
Nicole Caratas | Thursday, April 30, 2015
Saint Mary’s alumnae hosted a march around campus Thursday to protest the administration’s sexual assault policy and show support to students.
Jessica Lopez, class of 2013, started an online petition for alumnae to sign and organized the march. Other alumnae included Abigail Burgan (’14), Karen DeCocker (’97), Nori Drach (’10) and Heather Smith (’13) who walked with Saint Mary’s and Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) students on campus and personally delivered the petition to President Carol Ann Mooney.
Saint Mary’s director of media relations Gwen O’Brien said the mission of the College was what inspired the marchers to take action.
“Saint Mary’s women are empowered to make a difference in the world. It’s in the College’s mission statement,” O’Brien said. “The planned march was an example of a group of Saint Mary’s students and alumnae who are working to make a difference. We recognize and appreciate their passion.
“President Mooney, as an alumna, is another example of a Saint Mary’s woman who, throughout her career and her 11-year tenure here, has made a difference in the world.”
O’Brien said Mooney’s newly announced Presidential Taskforce will address ways to handle sexual assault on Saint Mary’s campus.
“The newly announced Presidential Taskforce, made up of students, faculty and administrators and chaired by the president will examine the issue of sexual violence and move the dialogue, which has been fruitful, into action,” O’Brien said. “That’s the difference we all seek.”
Burgan said the purpose of the march was to show the current Saint Mary’s student body that alumnae support them.
“As alumnae, we want to let the students know that we are supportive,” Burgan said. “All the Belles support them. That’s why we have almost 500 signatures on the petition. … In less that 72 hours, we got almost 500 signatures. That just shows that we’re in tune with our school, our alma mater, and we just want to make sure we stay current on all the issues.”
Drach said it is important for students to understand other Saint Mary’s women were on their side, especially survivors of sexual assault.
“When you have an institution or community that doesn’t really support you, you’re not going to report anything,” Drach said. “That’s going to continue to go inside you and get worse. I highly doubt students are going to be able to [report] if they don’t have the support of their alumnae and the community in the first place.”
IUSB showed their support of the Saint Mary’s community as president and vice president of their Feminists Student Union, Cassandra Castro and Dominique Bonilla, marched with the group that included other IUSB students.
Castro said IUSB screened “The Hunting Ground” on Tuesday and then held a panel discussion about the violence and sexual assault that occurs on their own campus. She said they decided to participate in the march because the Saint Mary’s community has supported them in the past and they wanted to return the favor.
“We came here because as a community, it is our responsibility to help each other in times of need,” Bonilla said. “We’re all women, and if we don’t stand up to what’s wrong, then who will?”
Burgan said she was nervous yet hopeful when walking into Mooney’s office.
“She’s a very powerful president who is also an alumna, who we all really respect,” Burgan said. “We really want to see her make positive change. … I knew I had such amazing Belles behind me. All these current students who stood up. I felt so empowered and so supported.”
According to the alumnae, Mooney mentioned her plans for the task force to them when they brought her the petition. However, Drach and DeCocker said that while they were happy with this idea, they do not believe it is enough.
“I just want to make sure something happens,” Drach said. “I would like people involved who are outside the school and not bound by employment contracts.”
“There needs to be a concrete action plan,” DeCocker said.
DeCocker said they asked to have alumnae involved in the future. She was surprised by Mooney’s denial to a request to have alumnae either on the task force or sitting in as advisers without voting power.
The alumnae all agreed their purpose in marching and in writing the petition was to see positive change in a place they love.
“This is not about chastising the administration, “ Burgan said. “We are Saint Mary’s. We love Saint Mary’s. We want to see this institution thrive as much as possible and especially be a leader in the nation regarding this issue. To make a big change in our policies shows how much we support our students and how much the administration wants to give that same respect back.”
“This can help us be a leader in the area, as a woman’s college and in the community,” Drach said. “You have Holy Cross, you have IUSB, you have Bethel College, you have Ivy Tech. You have so many women on these college campuses, and we can be a leader in that.”