Fifty years to the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it seems timely to reflect on the power of activism and the use of one’s voice to advocate for others. For generations since his passing, King — whose voice broke through the barriers of Jim Crow, white supremacy, and oppression of all peoples — has represented the resounding change that direct action can bring when amplified by a chorus of voices.
In his renowned “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King describes the effects of oppression and the sense of inferiority it can impose. In the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, I was struck by the parallels in his assessment of the impacts of oppression to today’s call to action for women nationwide.
To draw too strong of a comparison between the plight of women in the United States and the cruel treatment of African-Americans throughout history would be terribly flawed. Nonetheless, both groups have historically been oppressed by a more privileged group; and the inferiority that plagued generations of women discouraged them from speaking out against pervasive sexual violence.
But in recent years, women have been rising — rising to the challenge of changing a culture that perpetuates sexual violence, including here at Ohio State.
As a first-year student, I was welcomed to campus by the “It’s On Us Campaign,” raising awareness about sexual violence on college campuses, followed by a visit from then-Vice President Joe Biden, and the establishment of mandatory consent training for freshmen. Inspired by older students’ direct action, I joined the young student organization Advocates for Women of the World, and worked to start its annual Banner Up Campaign, welcoming students to campus each fall with banners on Greek Life housing that display supportive phrases about consent and sexual violence survivors.
And my story is not unique. Surrounded by a flourishing movement at our own university, many Ohio State students began to use their voices to educate and raise awareness about consent and sexual violence.
But behind the banners, campaigns and trainings, lies the horrible truth that sexual violence still exists on this campus and on many others. While student activism can influence future change, it can’t rectify the past injustices that too many students have experienced. That’s where Ohio State’s Sexual Civility and Empowerment, which is part of the Office of Student Life, comes in.
In my time as a student, SCE has been a beacon of hope for survivors of sexual violence and for the university culture. Having a department actively engaged with students who are survivors of sexual violence has encouraged healing and cultural change among students at Ohio State. While no organization is perfect, SCE provided survivors with resources, advocates and support, all of which have contributed to the campus-wide movement combating the oppression many female students and survivors have faced.
The university has given little information regarding the investigation of SCE, which has temporarily closed its doors and maintains the position that alternative resources remain available to students who previously depended on SCE for support. While this statement is far from false, it is difficult to feel the truth in its words knowing many students have come to rely on SCE personnel, who prioritize building personal relationships with their students.
Without knowing the reason for the investigation, I want to urge the university to consider the breadth and depth of SCE’s impact in combating the campus rape culture at Ohio State. I also worry about the chilling effects on advocacy and reporting of sexual assaults that could result if the department was closed permanently.
Thanks to SCE, students have been empowered to advocate for others, to celebrate the strength of survivors and to use education to prevent future sexual violence. But now, like King, students are tired of waiting — tired of waiting for resources, tired of waiting for answers, and tired of waiting for the campus rape culture to be overcome. I implore the university not to interrupt the flow of history and to recognize the value SCE has added to Ohio State’s progress in making our campus a safer and more just place.