Survivors, supporters walk out in solidarity

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Approximately 30 students, staff members, gathered on the Sunken Garden between 1:00-1:15 p.m. on Sept. 24. LEONOR GRAVE / THE FLAT HAT

Sept. 24 at 12:59 p.m., Kathryn Willoughby ’20 sat in her Arts of North America class in Andrews Hall. Promptly at 1:00 p.m., she stood up, briefly addressed her class and left the classroom.

Willoughby joined a small crowd of about 30 protesters gathered on the Sunken Garden, where, still audibly winded from her walk from Andrews, she delivered her remarks.

At the same time, a series of protests took place across the country, as people gathered in solidarity with Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, the two women who have recently spoken publicly about allegations of sexual misconduct perpetrated against them by U.S. President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

“We need to show that we believe survivors, and showing up like this for 15 minutes, it might not seem like anything, but I can confirm that for myself, and for any other survivors in this group, that it really does mean something,” Willoughby said. “A lot of times people don’t report because they don’t think they’ll be believed, and so it’s really awesome that y’all came out to say: We believe survivors and we believe these women.”

Willoughby cited recently released data from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network that this past Friday and Saturday, in the wake of Ford and Ramirez’s stories, there has been a 42 percent rise in calls to the organization compared to the typical number of calls they receive.

“They’re seeing other people being believed, so they go out and feel like they can speak about what happened,” Willoughby said. “I think that’s really awesome, and I think that’s proof that this matters.”

“They’re seeing other people being believed, so they go out and feel like they can speak about what happened,” Willoughby said. “I think that’s really awesome, and I think that’s proof that this matters.”

At the College of William and Mary, this particular coordinated walkout came together at the last minute. Willoughby explained that she had heard about the nationally-coordinated effort and felt it was important to show solidarity, so she created an event on Facebook the night before the event to spread the word among students. And while the national protest arose concurrently with Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, Willoughby emphasized that her focus was on solidarity.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” Willoughby said. “It’s about believing survivors.”

For Liz Cascone, the director of The Haven, a confidential resource on campus that supports survivors of sexual violence and harassment, being present at the event was an attempt to show support.

“I only found out about it this morning, and so I felt like it was important for The Haven to show up and be here,” Cascone said.

Cascone said that she believes local demonstrations of national efforts are useful in demonstrating support of an issue.

“Any time we can do something that other campuses are doing, or other organizations are doing, and has a national impact also, is a great thing,” Cascone said. “So I think while this was small, it’s visible. It gives people a sense that people are paying attention and that people care about this issue and want to see some reasonable action taken.”

Maeve Naughton-Rockwell ’22 and Meg Jones ’22 walked out of their Culture of Arab Food class to show solidarity with survivors. Jones said that she reached out to Arabic studies professor Stephen Sheehi before class to let him know she planned to do this, and that he was supportive of the gesture and allowed her to address the class before stepping out.

“Unfortunately Maeve and I were the only two people that chose to walk out, but [Sheehi] did let me say something at the beginning of class and congratulated both of us for going out and speaking,” Jones said.

Jones said that when she first heard about walkout protests, in the context of the National School Walkout to support measures against gun violence earlier this year, she was skeptical of their efficacy. However, once she had the chance to meet some students from Parkland High School in Florida involved in gun control advocacy efforts, she said she was inspired by their activism and impacted by the expressions of solidarity she witnessed.

“Solidarity is always important in any issue,” Jones said. “So for me, being supportive of sexual assault survivors is important, and this is something that I can do to show my support.”

While Jones is barely a month into her first year at the College, she said she hopes to see the administration continue to promote advocacy efforts for sexual assault prevention and resources for supporting survivors.

“A lot of the things that happen could be prevented by just addressing issues that are present and addressing rape culture,” Jones said.

“A lot of the things that happen could be prevented by just addressing issues that are present and addressing rape culture,” Jones said.

Once 15 minutes had passed, most of the students, faculty and staff members walked away from the Sunken Garden and continued with their day. Willoughby said that considering she organized the event with less than a day to prepare and without the formal backing of a student organization, she was heartened by the turnout.

“I am a survivor,” Willoughby said. “Personally, to see these people that I don’t know at all, to see them support survivors, believe survivors, was really impactful.”