On Friday, April 20, 2018, students and a handful of faculty gathered together on the steps of Wilson Hall. Brandishing signs, dressed in teal and armed with their hearts, they stood together in silence to honor those who have been rendered voiceless in countless cases of sexual assault and sexual violence. This silent protest came about as a response to recent media coverage, and other instances coming to light, of sexual assault cases here on JMU’s campus that has received very little attention by those in administration, only to be accompanied by empty promises of encouragement and change-seeking.
Why am I writing about this? Because not only is this an issue that I believe needs extreme attention and care, I was there on those steps.
In my first official act of protest, I proudly stood with those who silenced their voices for those who have been silenced by the system.
On the Quad, there was an obvious shift in energy from where it is normally. Though there were plenty of folks going about their days between classes and taking graduation photos with friends, the presence we created was very present. Around the time that I joined we were able to talk, and I was happy to hear the discussions on topical issues and support for the cause occurring in our group.
As the protest came to an end, we all vowed to be silent once more to show our support. Those with signs stood united. People walking by stopped to watch, take photos, make comments of confusion, and even to join us. Once the Wilson clock rang, we broke the silence and disbanded to carry our conversations with us into the rest of the day.
There is no working around it. James Madison has a history of either brushing these cases under the rug or not delivering justice the way that they should. Who could forget the time JMU wound up on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart for expelling a guilty party in such a case from the University...after graduation. I was a senior in high school at the time that this happened, and as someone who had already committed to attending JMU to pursue my degree, this certainly wasn’t the kind of warm welcome I was expecting.
If JMU truly is worried about, “protecting their image,” like so many have been saying, then they are wasting their energy. It’s already smeared.
Brushing these cases under the rug for years post-daily show isn’t helping JMU’s “image.” It’s only causing the institution to spiral further down the rabbit hole in terms of responsibility, accountability, and credibility. You can only hide so many skeletons in the closet until someone starts to notice the aroma. You can only apply so many bandages until the wound becomes deadly. The University tells us from day one that we are JMU. That the students are number one. That we are to be protected with the systems and services in place. So then why is this happening? Why do they brush people under the rug or slap a bandage on a serious problem? Were we being lied to?
If I know anything at all, it is this: those without a voice need our help. They need JMU’s help. Our school needs to take actual steps towards addressing these issues and to actually solve problems. Actions will speak louder than words, especially empty ones. In so many moments, I have been proud of my school. I guess only time will tell if I will be able to say that again.
Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.
Also, in case you don’t remember: http://time.com/2930987/daily-show-campus-sexual-a...