Grey skies loomed overhead as dusk began to settle over Boston University’s Metcalf Science Center Plaza. A crowd of over 100 people gathered together for the Speakout and Rally Against Sexual Harassment in Higher Education hosted by BU’s Graduate Workers Union.
Spectators held signs saying, “We Demand Safe Workplace Now”, and “End Rape Culture,” and one by one, speakers stood above the crowd projecting their words with a small megaphone—condemning the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in higher education.
The rally took place on the heels of a recent article published in Science Mag exposing the chair of BU’s earth and environmental department David Marchant as the subject of a Title IX investigation for alleged abuse and harassment of female graduate student workers under his supervision in the Antarctic.
Several graduate workers from BU spoke about the prevalence of systematic sexual assault. They agreed that the violence and misconduct go further than actions of individuals, and argued that the problem is rooted in hierarchical systems of oppression, and dangerous power dynamics.
Members of the Boston College community were out in full force at the rally, holding their own personalized signs in support of the cause. Maddi Boettner, MCAS ’19, a representative from the Young Democratic Socialists (YDSA), shared that her organization’s mission is to stand up in solidarity against injustice in the greater Boston area, and on campus.
“I think it’s important that we show our support in Boston because it’s a systemic issue,” Boettner said. “And even though there might not be outwardly cases at BC we should support the issue at large and we should support our community of Boston and stand up in solidarity for them.”
Boettner explained that once YDSA is registered, she hopes to raise awareness for the marginalized people who feel that they don’t have a voice at BC. By getting registered and having the power to “organize things on campus that stand up for these issues,” Bottner and her organization hope to making BC a place where students and graduate workers feel comfortable about concerns on campus.
The goals of the BC Graduate Employees Union – United Auto Workers align with those of BU’s. Victoria Gabriele, a graduate student at BC and member of the union, spoke about how she hopes to to collectively negotiate a contract with the BC administration.
“We agree that introducing a grievance policy definitely benefits people who experience sexual assault,” Gabriele said. “This is an issue that affects college students and graduate student workers all across the country.”
Spectators watched on in admiration, cheering loudly after each speaker finished their impassioned speeches. BU undergraduate Cassandra Oldfield was one of the many onlookers in attendance who became motivated to show support following the release of the controversial article.
“I’m actually a part of the Democratic Socialists of Boston University,” Oldfield said. “I read the article about what happened in Antarctica like a lot of people did and I thought it was important to come out and show support.”
Each speaker spoke specifically about the prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct toward women. Issue were raised with inadequate support systems on college campuses leading many women to not speak out in fear of being blamed or socially ostracized.
Betsy Cowdery, a fourth year in the earth and environment department at BU, took the stage to express her concern for women in higher education.
“Sexual harassment and misconduct can come in many different forms,” Cowdery said.“But it always creates a sense of unease and a culture of fear. You must understand that this is a big part of what women in academia deal with everyday.”
Many of the guest speakers addressed the issue of a lack of clearly outlined protective grievance policies on college campuses. The aim of the rally was to argue that university administrations are not doing enough to protect its students and workers. It’s evident that the Graduate Workers Union at BU is attempting to bring the community together to see an end to campus sexual violence and harassment.
“I really hope this jumpstarts a discussion that we should be having already,” Cowdery said. “And I hope that it gives people the inspiration and also makes them feel safe so that they can also speak out and have open discussion about sexual assault in the workplace.”
Featured Image by William Batchelor / Heights Editor