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Staff Editorial: Student protest sparks dialogue tainted by confusion and miscommunication

On April 5, a student-led protest was held addressing Mills' handling of sexual assault cases. (Emily Burian)
On April 5, a student-led protest was held addressing Mills’ handling of sexual assault cases. (Emily Burian)

Sexual violence is a topic that we’ve become sadly all too familiar with. On the national stage alone, it’s enough to make one’s head spin. In the world of higher education, it feels like an omnipresent force lurking in the back of the mind of every student who doesn’t identify as a cisgender man. Although many students come to Mills in hopes of avoiding sexual violence, recent events and dialogue have demonstrated that our school is not immune to the issue.

The overall student psyche, already shaken by a March 28 email informing the student body of an alleged sexual assault on campus three days prior, has continued to be rocked by intense discussion and consideration of sexual violence. On April 5, a student-led protest intended to draw awareness to previous handling of sexual assault cases made its way onto our radar in the form of a Google document listing problems to be addressed and goals of the April 5 demonstration. Public forums addressing the issue were held throughout the week, and it has continued to weigh heavy on students’ minds.

The silver lining is the fact that this is a topic frequently swept under the rug, particularly at college campuses, which is now being brought to the forefront of discussion. However, organizational issues and miscommunication plagued the organization of the protest, leading to some students feeling shut down and most to feel a sense of widespread confusion about the issues at hand.

Sexual assault awareness is something close to the heart of the progressive sensibilities of Mills students. It’s painful to think of our fellow students being hurt and their voices dismissed, and it’s important to use all avenues available to prevent and address issues of sexual violence. At Mills, this is particularly important. Students are attracted to our campus due in large part to hopes of finding a safe haven from the toxic gender issues plaguing mainstream society.

However, organizing a protest and taking a public stance, particularly with an issue this sensitive, requires care and consideration, inclusion and intersectionality. Students are right to speak out against injustice they perceive on campus, but the overall feeling of confusion in light of the protest, conflated with pain and anxiety about the possibility of sexual assault on campus, has been hard to digest and distracting to say the least.

Hopefully this isn’t a detriment to the discussion and the larger issues at hand. Mills has a responsibility to address issues disproportionately affecting women and people outside the gender binary, and we have passionate, dedicated students seeking to address these issues in the world at large. In a country rife with issues related to sexual violence, it’s becoming more and more necessary to develop strong advocates and a model for how other institutions should behave.