Students organized by the Feminist Underground gathered outside of President Michael Roth’s house on Saturday, Sept. 20, for a candlelit vigil honoring future victims of sexual assault. The vigil was coordinated so that its participants would greet members of the Board of Trustees as they left a dinner with Roth. Following a day of trustee meetings regarding University policy, the vigil called attention to the ongoing issue of sexual assault on campus and promoted the prioritization of sexual assault policy on the Trustees’ agenda.
Several vigil members held a sign that read, “In the next two weeks there will be 100 new freshman victims of sexual assault and harassment at Wesleyan.” The statistic was taken from University freshmen’s responses to past Alcohol.edu surveys. The layout of the poster mimicked the font and style of Wesleyan’s “This is Why” campaign ads.
The event lasted about an hour in total, with a total of approximately thirty student attendees. Board of Trustees member Diana Farrell ’87 joined vigil attendees at Usdan after the vigil to hear their stories and discuss possible solutions to the problem of sexual assault on campus.
As members of the Board of Trustees began to exit Roth’s house, two Public Safety (PSafe) officers approached the crowd and asked them to “move along.” However, because the vigil participants were on the side of the sidewalk furthest from the president’s house, they were still on public property and thus legally allowed to stand in support of their cause.
Feminist Underground organizer Tess Altman ’17 emphasized the legality of the vigil and noted that the event was not a protest against the administration or the Board of Trustees.
“One of our main goals with this event was to welcome and inform people who aren’t ready to necessarily commit their whole lives to our cause,” Altman said. “So we got the word out by word of mouth and text message, rather than a Facebook event where you just click ‘Join.’ We also thought it was important that students wear black; you have to take the time to prepare yourself alone before you come to the vigil.”
Passersby had varying reactions to the vigil and posters. University Professor of Letters Kari Weil approached the crowd and thanked the students for their efforts. Toward the end of the vigil, Roth and Chair of the Committee for Inclusion and Diversity Sadasia McCutchen ’17 approached the crowd together. McCutchen joined the vigil, while Roth addressed the students and thanked them for being there.
Altman organized the vigil along with Raechel Rosen ’15 and Isabel Alter ’17. All three of the student organizers are involved with the Feminist Underground, whose primary goal is to support any feminist projects or political action on campus. The group strives to reform the adjudication process at the University and to change social forces that feed into sexism on campus and beyond.
Throughout the day on Saturday, as Board of Trustees members met to discuss various issues on campus, Feminist Underground members gathered outside the meeting spaces handing out bracelets for trustees to wear in support of sexual assault survivors. The group also published a table of recommendations for sexual assault policy at the University, which they distributed to trustees.
“I think that our distribution of our list of demands made people think critically about the issue, while I hope that the vigil made people feel about the issue,” Rosen said. “There is very little way for the Board to know what’s going on on campus. The statistic is very shocking. I also think that this vigil it gave the students to see who makes up the Board of Trustees, so they can see the faces of those who change our policies.”
Vigil attendee Daniel Pope ’16 commented on the personal effect that the event had on him.
“I thought it was a very powerful event to take part in, although I don’t consider myself very involved with issues like it on campus,” Pope said. “The sign that we held was incredible because it was true, and facts like that speak for themselves.”