Justin Peligri: Three cheers for anti-sexual assault student activism

The University likes to boast about its nearly 400 student organizations. You’ve probably heard that number tossed around on campus tours and at orientation events.

But it’s not just the sheer number of student groups at GW that is attractive: It’s the substantive change many of these students fight for that is truly worth writing home about. During the first few weeks of the new semester, anti-sexual assault activists once again showed their capacity to turn passion into organized efforts.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

Amid controversial remarks by a former University president and an alleged sexual assault that occurred days later in a campus fraternity house, it’s important to celebrate the wise, middle-of-the road campus leaders who have stepped up and made their positions heard.

Students Against Sexual Assault partnered with alumna Sally Kaplan last week to build an online petition following former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s comments on a radio show. The petition calls for “more comprehensive, mandatory sexual assault prevention and bystander training for all social and professional Greek life on a semesterly basis.”

It’s our job as students to prevent their demands from falling by the wayside, even as the events from last week fade from memory.

So far, the online petition has earned more than 860 signatures and support from Student Association Sen. Omeed Firouzi, U-At Large, who has made sexual assault prevention a staple of his tenure in student advocacy. Firouzi has, among other things, worked with GW officials to improve HAVEN, the University’s website for sexual assault-related resources.

“I think it’s a positive thing that folks are coming together on the issue,” he told me. “It’s unfortunate that [Trachtenberg’s comments] could compel something like that, but granted, sometimes good things arrive out of a bad situation.”

For example, the Feminist Student Union has organized “Feminist Jeopardy,” which aims to educate students about sexual violence and their Title IX rights.

FSU programming chair Erika Feinman told me that “Trachtenberg’s comments highlighted an attitude that we are trying to change.”

“We hope that the GW community will continue to work together in creating not only a more supportive environment for survivors, but a campus climate that moves away from victim-blaming and instead focuses on proactively educating all students so that they do not perpetrate sexual assaults,” she told me.

Fortunately, this campus attitude has been around for a while: Anti-sexual assault activism hasn’t just cropped up in the past few weeks.

Last year, student leaders pushed the University to remove a 180-day limit on when students could file a formal complaint against an alleged perpetrator.

The previous year, a group of male activists worked with District authorities to launch an app that allows survivors to report assaults and access emergency resources from their phones. And student activists like Firouzi and Ariella Neckritz have lobbied the University to include Title IX information on course syllabi.

There are still clear gaps in GW’s attempts to increase sexual assault awareness and end the epidemic on campus. Namely, the University still has not replaced former Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira, who left campus nearly nine months ago.

But amid often justified cynicism, let’s not ignore the students who have helped us get this far in the first place.

Justin Peligri, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

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