Just weeks ago, Boston University announced the establishment of a sexual assault crisis and prevention center, which is set to open its doors at the beginning of the 2012 school year. Of course, there are some amazing student activists behind this success story. Without further ado, I’d like to introduce Sarah Merriman, whose guest post below chronicles her and her fellow students’ struggle to make change happen at BU. You can also read the proposal they submitted to their school’s administrators by clicking here. Congratulations to Sarah and all of the student activists at BU for this incredible achievement!
February 20th, 2012. That was the Tuesday morning that dawned bright and cold, the Monday morning in which my life, my experience as a BU student, and my activism, was about to change forever.
My activism, as a student, a researcher, and a feminist operating in Boston and out of BU’s Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism (CGSA) has always centered around issues of interpersonal violence, and almost always focused on sexual assault. For years, it has felt like I have been banging my head against a wall of bureaucracy and budget issues to get an ounce of sexual assault prevention to my fellow students at BU. Other students like me had gone in these same circles. Nothing was happening.
On this Tuesday morning, though, we caught word that a hockey player had assaulted another student over the long weekend, the second in a line of hockey player-perpetuated attacks. Suddenly, this was the incident that launched a thousand students, so to speak. People were confused, angry, shocked, mobilized, and they were looking to the CGSA for guidance. We were the only people on campus consistently working on feminist issues such as sexual assault, and the student body needed us.
After an exhausting few weeks of press, town halls, being attacked on the internet, a task force being formed, and a lot of stressful meetings, a few of us, students both within and outside the CGSA, decided it was time to write a proposal for what we were calling a “rape crisis center.” No student initiative comes to fruition at BU without a written proposal and a strong case, and even then, we knew this was a long shot. But we had to try.
Over many meetings (that went from 9 pm to 2 or 3 in the morning), plus countless hours of outside research that included looking at other universities’ policies and prevention and treatment measures, taking meetings with many experienced university professionals, gathering over 1,000 signatures of support on an online petition, and, in many ways, redefining the dialogue happening across campus about rape culture, we formed a document. It was an exhaustive 20 pages. No stone was left unturned. We attached letters of support from community leaders, and we had our consultants approve the whole thing before turning it in.
I had expected a delay well into the summer. A five-year plan floated in my head. What I never expected, on April 30th, 2012, another bright beginning to my week, was the letter that read that a center would be opening in the Fall of 2012. This year. In a few months. It was happening. It would include bystander intervention training, multiple crisis counselors, and a prevention specialist. I cried as I realized the one thing I had fought for for my the entirety of my undergraduate career was being realized.
Never have I felt like more of a warrior than I did this past year. I was fighting within my school, my community, for its betterment. Famous feminists and national leaders were using my words to send their support for this space and this mission. The paragraphs of prevention suggestions that I wrote will be used in reality. I can’t emphasize enough that the “student voice” is not a worthless one. I was hitting a wall for years before incidental timing and a community ready for change, plus an incredible group of seven students from different backgrounds and experiences, made this proposal happen. That’s student power. That’s why we do what we do, everyday.