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Notre Dame students, faculty participate in national walkout supporting sexual assault victims

| Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Across the nation Monday afternoon, individuals participated in a national walkout and gathered in public places — some sporting black clothing, others holding up signs — to signal solidarity with Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. Thursday, Ford will testify about the alleged incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kelli Smith | The Observer

Members of the Notre Dame community gather outside Hesburgh Library for an event promoted by Irish 4 Reproductive Health. The group was supporting Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her.

Some members of the Notre Dame community participated in that show of support Monday afternoon by gathering in front of Hesburgh Library in an event promoted by Irish 4 Reproductive Health (I4RH).

In a statement to The Observer, I4RH said the walkout was intended as a sign of solidarity with others across the country.

“We believe Dr. Ford and survivors everywhere,” the statement read. “This walkout is in solidarity with them and in support of their bravery in speaking out. Coming forward as a survivor not only adds to the trauma of assault but allows for opportunities of retaliation as well. We hear their stories and encourage others on the Notre Dame campus to listen and reflect with us.”

Sophomore Jade Moss said she attended the event with “about five others” from her feminist philosophy class, which was dismissed early so students could participate in the walkout.

“I think it’s important at any college to just respect and support survivors,” Moss said. “I guess that’s the first reason I’m here. I don’t think it should be a political issue — regardless of what aisle you’re on, you have to support what victims have to say.”

Joining some of her teammates in the Notre Dame women’s fencing team, junior Christina Boitano attended the event because she said it’s important to believe people who have the courage to come out with allegations like Ford’s in order to really “start a conversation about it.”

“I’m not hopeful as to the result [of Ford’s testimony], but I’m hopeful because of events like these,” Boitano said.

Junior Jackie O’Brien (Editor’s note: Jackie O’Brien is a columnist for The Observer) said events like the walkout are critical because it shows people can see past the politics to “focus on the survivor’s story.”

“On college campuses in particular, especially here at Notre Dame, I think it’s vitally important as sexual assault is an issue we deal with on a really massive scale here,” O’Brien said. “So even though this protest is specifically in support of Dr. Ford and saying we believe her, I think it moreso reiterates the message for the entire student body that we believe all of you, and whoever’s gone through anything should feel comfortable coming to anybody in the community and coming forward because we’ll support them.”

For an event that was thrown together “very quickly,” O’Brien said she was amazed at how many people turned out.

“I was amazed at how many faculty also came out in support,” she said. “It was just a really awesome thing to see because they’re really a point-person and an inspiration for a lot of students on campus.”

Ernesto Verdeja, an associate professor of political science and peace studies at the Kroc Institute, said he was encouraged by student attendance at the walkout and hopes such efforts will be sustained “in the long-term.”

“I think it’s extremely important, I think it’s very valuable, I think it’s also inspiring to see young people who are engaged with the major political issues of their time,” Verdeja said. “These are questions that will continue affecting all of them, all of us, as Americans and as people who live in this country.”

Jason Springs, an associate professor of religion, ethics and peace studies at the Kroc Institute, said universities have historically been the places of “great catalyst movements for change,” and now is especially important a time for those movements.

“The kind of activism, the kind of awareness, the kind of engagement — it does give me hope and I think that it’s to be encouraged and supported which is why I come out and why we come out,” Springs said. “As much as this is a time where it’s hard to sustain hope with what’s going on in our country politically and socially, it’s in being a college-educator, a teacher of college students, that I derive the hope that I have.

Verdeja said he believes culture is at a particular inflection point where people have to be more responsive to the “demands placed by women” since allegations and charges in the past were dismissed.

“I just want to underscore that these types of movements on college campuses … are part of longer historical trajectories of really pushing for justice coming from universities and colleges,” Verdeja said. “This is a really important space for justice efforts, so I’m delighted and encouraged when I look around and I see students here taking on this mantle, even if I’m very discouraged when I consider what might happen on Thursday.”

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she serves as Associate News Editor at the Observer and is pursuing a double major in political science and television with minors in journalism and computing.

Contact Kelli