By Genevieve Coleman and Liam Price
Editor’s note: This story includes mentions of sexual assault. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.
Last Tuesday, a group of students protested on God Quad in the wake of a post from a student on social media claiming the University mishandled their Title IX case regarding an alleged instance of sexual assault.
Following the initial post, at least four more students at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s posted their stories of alleged sexual assault on their personal social media accounts. The posts have sparked discussion, both online and offline, of how tri-campus students and administration can best handle this topic.
“We were here because … a student posted a very concerning post on Instagram detailing their experience with SA, going through the Title IX office and not being supported or represented the way that they had hoped to,” fifth-year Tony Perez said of the protest.
The protest had a small turnout, Perez acknowledged, but he said the support was still present.
“There are a lot more people who stand with us physically and metaphorically, that are more than happy to believe survivors and are more than happy to make sure that justice is spelled out,” he said.
In response to the social media posts, University spokesperson Dennis Brown stated Notre Dame cannot discuss specific cases of student discipline.
“In compliance with federal privacy laws, we cannot and do not discuss specific student disciplinary cases, nor do we confirm whether a specific matter is being or has been investigated,” Brown said.
He continued by discussing Notre Dame’s efforts to combat sexual violence.
“Sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence can occur anywhere, and Notre Dame is not exempt from that reality,” Brown stated. “The University works tirelessly to combat sexual violence through numerous initiatives that seek to educate our students, heighten their awareness and support victims and survivors. Rape and sexual assault are unacceptable and are not tolerated in the Notre Dame community.”
Saint Mary’s vice president for student enrollment and engagement Lori Johnson also commented on the resources the College has created.
“We are aware of our student’s posts on social media and understand the heartfelt reaction it has generated on campus,” Johnson said. “However, we cannot comment on the specifics of our student or her story. The College has worked diligently to put resources in place to support our students. These resources and initiatives are available to all students through the Office of Student Involvement & Advocacy and BAVO (Belles Against Violence [Office]).”
Student leaders respond to multiple claims of sexual violence
Earlier this week, Saint Mary’s Student Government Association (SGA) posted a statement on Instagram to show their “love, support and advocacy for anyone who has endured hardships pertaining to sexual assault and sexual violence.”
The post also acknowledged that SGA leaders were in communication with the Saint Mary’s administration about these issues, though it would be “a process that takes time.”
SGA vice president Josie Haas said she takes pride in the strength of tri-campus community members.
“[SGA president] Angela [Camacho Martinez] and I wanted to make sure that our Belles felt supported by our SGA, wanted them to feel heard and wanted to bring as much attention to their strength as possible because their stories are worth being heard and we need others to see the gravity of this issue in our tri-campus community,” Haas said.
Notre Dame student government also posted a guide to supporting survivors on their Instagram page this week.
Notre Dame’s student body president Patrick Lee said the student government’s stance is centered on survivor support, encouraging students to be active bystanders and bringing student concerns to the Office of Institutional Equity.
“Since everything has been going on, student support has always been on the front of our minds,” he said.
Belles Supporting Belles (BSB) president Annie Maher discussed her anger about reading how survivors claimed a lack of support from tri-campus institutions.
“When I first read some of the survivors’ stories, I was angered by the lack of support these students felt,” Maher said. “Not only did these students go through an extremely traumatic experience that no person should ever have to go through, but then they received little to no support after that experience from institutions that are supposed to have their backs.”
Maher also reflected on what she perceives to be a lack of change in how the tri-campus handles sexual assault cases.
“It pained me to see another group of students have to share their story to try to ignite some action in the tri-campus community,” she said. “Talk to pretty much any student on all three of the campuses and you will understand that this is an issue.”
Leaders plan initiatives to support students
Camacho Martinez noted that SGA’s social concerns committee has been working on the annual Support a Belle, Love a Belle (SBLB) week and adapted their plans to highlight campus resources.
“There have been plans on adjusting a few days of SBLB to center more on resources made available to campus, like Callisto,” Camacho Martinez said. “I think this is a valuable resource that assists in the encounter of sexual assault and/or sexual violence faced by not just SMC students but also Notre Dame and Holy Cross students.”
Haas also emphasized SBLB is a time where students in the community can support each other.
“Overall, the purpose of this week is to show the support and love we have for one another as Belles,” she said. “By being an uplifting community, we give each other strength and inspire ourselves to be the amazing Belles I know we are despite negative circumstances. We can help each other overcome whatever is placed in our pathway.”
Lee said student government has been addressing the situation for the past two weeks. He outlined plans for a survivor mass at the Basilica, a speak out event supporting survivors, GreenDot training for students and a survey gathering information to evaluate the reporting process for harassment and discrimination on campus.
Student Government is also co-sponsoring the panel “Walking Hand in Hand: Navigating the sexual assault support system on campus,” with the Gender Relations Center, director of gender relations Lane Obringer said.
Saint Mary’s Feminists United president Madison Mata said the organization will continue to serve as a place for students to feel safe and become more educated about relevant issues.
“I think for Feminists United as a whole, it’s gonna be being able to open up the floor to people who want to share their stories — whether it’s sexual violence or assault or anything like that,” she said. “In general, just being able to be a safe space for them, sharing resources, staying educated and making sure that like-minded people are in the club for the right reasons.”
In addition, Feminists United is inviting local female politicians to speak to Saint Mary’s students on Saturday about their experiences in politics and the importance of voting.
Like Mata, Maher is organizing specific events but encouraged students to use the student concern form on the BSB website to discuss sexual violence on campus.
“Belles Supporting Belles is working towards creating an event to address these stories. Our main priority right now is to make sure that students’ voices are heard,” Maher said. “Right now, we have created a student concern form that is in our Instagram bio that students can fill out regarding their concerns about sexual violence and safety on campus.”
Student leaders call for accountability
Camacho Martinez referred back to SGA’s initial communication with College administrators and called on them to keep creating ways to support Saint Mary’s students.
“For any SMC administrators who will read this story, I know we are already working through this process with you, but let’s see what more we can do to be supportive of our SMC students, inspire other tri-campus administrators to be supportive of their respective students and hopefully evoke change in the system that fails to believe our survivors,” she said.
Lee said the issue of handling sexual violence better will require the whole Notre Dame community, both students and administration, working together.
“If Notre Dame really is going to be this really amazing community that we all want it to be, we all know it can be, as inclusive as possible, as supportive as possible, then everybody needs to take accountability for the safety of others,” Lee said.
It is a large task, but one Lee believes the community can do.
“It’s my belief that we absolutely can. I’ve seen it a number of times,” Lee said. “From my point of view, three plus years of being a student leader here, it really does start with us. We can all be responsible for our own actions.”
Maher also called for administrator accountability, as well as implementing more comprehensive action steps during an ongoing investigation.
“I am tired, as I am sure many students are, of basic apologies from administrators. Students deserve positive action from the administration,” Maher said. “Comprehensive action plans for when a student reports a sexual assault, immediate probation/academic suspension when a perpetrator is identified, and other solutions are vital in maintaining a safe campus while the investigation is underway.”
She also claimed that based on the recent narratives of survivors, administrations are not believing their stories.
“The stories we heard last week are just a few of many survivors who have endured violent acts on our campuses,” she said. “Our institutions need to believe survivors, and based on the stories that were shared last week, that isn’t happening.”
Contact Genevieve Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org and Liam Price at email@example.com