Students occupy McKeldin for 12 hours, highlighting sexual misconduct and supporting survivors

By Ally Tobler

Preventing Sexual Assault (PSA) sought to bring awareness to sexual violence April 11 by occupying McKeldin Mall for 12 hours.

“Our campus is under its third federal investigation for the way we handle sexual misconduct, so I think it’s really important,” senior journalism major and PSA co-president Cristina Johnson said.

Johnson, along with senior government and politics major Nikki Wolfrey, started PSA three years ago, with Occupy McKeldin as the organization’s first event.

Occupy McKeldin featured speeches by sexual assault survivors: Victoria Valentino, a Bill Cosby survivor and advocate; Kamilah Willingham from the sexual assault documentary “The Hunting Ground;” Catherine Carroll, Title IX officer and director at the UMD Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct (OCRSM), and more.

Catherine Carroll, Title IX Director at UMD’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, speaks at Occupy McKeldin. Photo by Ally Tobler

Carroll highlighted the success of the recently established Title IX Student Advisory Board at the university, a group of representatives from across the campus who meet with Carroll regularly to provide insight on sexual misconduct issues on campus.

“With 38,000 students on campus, it’s critical and vital that my work on this campus is informed by what students want and what students need,” Carroll said.

Carroll explained that all universities that receive federal funding must take actions in preventing sexual misconduct. Foremost, if the OCRSM receives complaints about any incident of sexual violence or dating violence, the office will contact the individual who filed the complaint and inform them of university resources.

“In addition, we’re required to interrupt any type of sex discrimination,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think of sexual misconduct is a form of discrimination, and it is. It’s sex-based discrimination.”

Last year, the OCRSM received 310 reports of discrimination. 135 of those reports resulted in a complaint. And 47 of those complaints resulted in an investigation. 75 percent of the cases the office received were student sexual misconduct complaints.

Occupy McKeldin held yoga sessions for students. Photo by Ally Tobler

Other events at Occupy McKeldin included yoga and meditation, a #MeToo wall that students could sign and a letter-writing station to President Wallace Loh.

“Last year, we sent him 30 letters and he answered zero,” Johnson said. “That just gives you a little bit of insight into how much he cares about what we do.”

“It’s important that this event reaches as many people as possible,” senior marketing and international business major Caroline Summers said. “[Sexual assault is] prevalent on campus.”

A “PSA Pong” table to bring awareness to sexual misconduct on UMD’s campus. Photo by Ally Tobler

Other sexual assault awareness events coming up on the university campus include “Denim Day” on April 25, a national event inspired by a court case where the woman who claimed she was raped did not uphold because the court ruled that her jeans were so tight she must have helped to take them off, according to Johnson.

The OCRSM will also be hosting “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes,” an event where men will wear high heels and walk a mile in them, which will ultimately bring attention to violence against women.

“Our message today is mainly supporting survivors, believe them, support them and stand up for them and fight for them on our campus,” Johnson said.


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