“Why are women told to not wear certain clothes, not go out, not leave their drink unattended, while men aren’t told to not harass, not grope, not rape?”
That’s the question University of Kansas student Anna Bolinger, 20, and her fellow student protesters wanted an answer to across two days of protests following an alleged drugging and rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on Saturday. According to the Kansas City Star, fraternity officials first reported the assault over the weekend. In response, students have chanted for justice the past two nights outside the fraternity house, called for Phi Kappa Psi’s removal, and even reportedly put a Bible with anti-rape passages underlined through the fraternity’s mailbox.
The protests started around 8:30 p.m. on Monday, when Bolinger and hundreds of other students marched to the fraternity’s house in Lawrence, Kan., to show support for their unidentified classmate while also calling for an investigation into the alleged sexual assault.
“Students need to make their voices heard in this situation and all other situations regarding assault,” Bolinger said. “For far too long, we’ve been expected to accept the fate that the university decides, and this can’t continue.”
Ahead of Tuesday night’s protest, the University of Kansas released a statement about the protests and alleged sexual assault. “We can confirm that the university and local law enforcement are aware of a reported sexual assault at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house off campus, and we have initiated our investigatory process,” the statement read.
A spokesman for the fraternity told the Kansas City Star that the organization has been made aware of the allegations involving one of its new undergraduate members and that the university was immediately notified.
“Phi Kappa Psi takes these allegations very seriously and will fully cooperate with law enforcement,” the statement said. “Due to the recent nature of these allegations and the need for a full and complete investigation, Phi Kappa Psi cannot provide further comments at this time.”
The University of Kansas and the Interfraternity Council at the university did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Particularly after the #MeToo movement, there’s been renewed activism around sexual assault on campuses. An estimated 26.4 percent of female and 6.8 percent of male college students experience rape or sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), and about half of sexual violence incidents on college campuses occur between August and November — a period of time advocates call the “red zone.”
An anonymous Instagram account is organizing the University of Kansas movement. Its bio states: “Justice for Jane Doe. We are here to protest for a safe campus and Phi Psi proved they can’t provide that. #JusticeforJane” and links to a petition to ban Phi Kappa Psi from campus. Posts from the account featured photos from Monday and Tuesday’s protest, explanations as to why the survivor wants to maintain anonymity, and details for peacefully demanding action.
Gen Z grew up with social media and is adept at using it to support and organize around causes such as sexual violence prevention, said Elizabeth Jeglic, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York and co-editor of “Sexual Violence: Evidence Based Policy and Prevention.”
Social media is also increasingly becoming a space for people to share their traumas. According to Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University in New York City, this has led to “an increase of open activism around sexual violence and a significant amount of healing among survivors and those who care for them and also has created more opportunities for folks to connect with people and form safe and supportive communities.”
Members of the Greek community at the University of Kansas also attended the protests to show support for the unnamed survivor. Holly Rassette, 20, said she has been outspoken to the Interfraternity Council about safety concerns. She has been on high alert after hearing of “instances of people being roofied and raped last year at some chapters,” she said.
Rassette was inspired by similar protests that occurred last month at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) following reports of a sexual assault occurring at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house. The fraternity is currently suspended while the university and local authorities investigate the allegations. She attended Monday and Tuesday’s protests and called the outpouring of support from students across the university “empowering.”
Meaghan Boyd, 21, another Greek life member, said it was critical to take a stand and show the school and Greek organizations that sexual assault will no longer go unnoticed; she has heard of similar incidents that have gone unreported or did not result in long-term consequences.
Boyd expected only a handful of people involved in Greek life to show up, she said, but the crowds that attended gave her hope that change is possible.
When sexual assault occurs, it can create a sense of fear and anxiety in a tightknit community like a university campus — but protesting can alleviate some of that, according to Jeglic. “Sexual violence is about taking someone’s power away from them, and as such, feeling that you are doing something to speak out, make change and to prevent sexual violence from happening to others can assist in restoring some of that power that was taken, and help with the healing process,” she said.
“Protesting can activate resilience in not only mental health levels but overall healing,” added Lena Queen, a clinical somatic sexologist and owner of Journey Wellness & Consulting Group. Public sexual assault survivors like Chanel Miller and Simone Biles can be an inspiration for others to speak openly and fight against a long-held stance that “this is the way things are,” she said.
Miller, in particular, was the reason Anna Raedeke, 20, attended the protests. She isn’t involved in Greek life but went to the protests with her boyfriend, who is in another fraternity. The events at UNL and continual accounts of sexual assault on campus — in the news, among friends and from personal experience — angered her, and she wanted to get involved upon hearing of an instance on her own campus, she said.
“No means no, and we’re not afraid to tell you so,” said Alexa, 18, who got involved when a friend told her what allegedly happened to the survivor.
“They told me they’d be having a protest, and I immediately decided, ‘Absolutely, I’m going to be there to show my support,” added Alexa, who asked to be identified by her first name because she is not out as transgender to her family.
When protesters reconvened on Tuesday night, the crowd was smaller but students in attendance said the same energy remained and will continue until authorities take action. According to Alexa, protesters in green ski masks claimed ownership of the Instagram account.
Male students were also in attendance. Adam, 18, who is being identified by his first name because he is a survivor of sexual assault, stressed the importance of men showing up for the fight. “There’s a lot of toxic campus culture, especially in fraternities, that encourages and allows hurting women. Instead of confronting the issue, all we’ve done is blame women,” he said.
Overall, the mood at the protests was one of frustration and determination, Bolinger said: “To put it bluntly, students are fed up. We’re fed up with our concerns being addressed with a tweet or an email and then no real action taking place.”
But there was also healing, Bolinger said. She overheard one student tell another, “As a survivor, seeing this gives me hope.”
“We were protesting for those who wouldn’t or couldn’t speak up for themselves,” Bolinger said. “The protest was a sign of solidarity and a message loud and clear to abusers: We won’t be silenced, and we won’t be ignored.”