What MSU protesters are really fighting for (and why it matters to all of us)
There’s a lot happening right now on the campus at Michigan State University. Not only is the school currently the subject of a Title IX inquiry into its handling of sexual assault cases but, adding fuel to the fire, the school recently announced that conservative Washington Post columnist George Will was scheduled to be the school’s commencement speaker this Dec. 13. Students are not sitting quietly by.
Will has been called a rape apologist as a result of a piece on campus rape he published this past June, a piece that claimed colleges “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” and insisting that the result of this was that “victims proliferate.” MSU students were horrified that their school would invite a rape apologist to be a commencement speaker. So these students took action.
On Wednesday, a hundred and thirty students (with the help of super-cool women’s rights advocacy group UltraViolet) launched an epic protest that began with a chanting march around campus, continued with a trip to the administration building where they handed off a petition signed by 70,000 people around the world calling for Will to be booted as a commencement speaker, and staged a sit-in demanding not only the rescinding of Will’s commencement invitation, but also calling for a real change in school administration and policy when it comes to handling sexual assault.
UltraViolet Campaign Director Karin Roland had this to say about MSU has handled their situation:
“The MSU administration’s response to concerns about their commencement speaker is appalling. President Simon is clearly willing to go to bat for rape apologists but has shown time and time again that she will not even step up to the plate to assist survivors of rape. MSU has been failing student survivors for years, now they are taking it to a whole new level by putting George Will first, and blatantly disregarding survivors. Not taking rape seriously isn’t a new perspective at MSU— it’s old news. We will work tirelessly to ensure that high school students think twice before applying to or accepting an offer at MSU this year.”
In response to news of the protests, a university spokesman stated: “We encourage and support any community member who wishes to make his or her voice heard on any issue, particularly one as important as sexual assault. Free speech is a core value at MSU, and the free and open exchange of ideas is integral to a vibrant learning community at any university.”
One of the MSU Sit-In’s primary organizers, Emily Kollaritsch, recognizes that as big as this fight is within her school, it extends far beyond university borders.
“We knew we had to make this a national issue. This can’t be hidden under the rug,” she told Hello Giggles. “We’ve been talking to students all around the nation and we’re trying to get this fight taken seriously. Our school has a responsibility to protect its students. Everybody deserves to be safe.”
When asked if she had any words for students on other campuses who want to see a change in how sexual assault is handled (or, to be blunt, often mishandled) at their schools, Kollaritsch responded with powerful words.
“Stay strong. Never give up. What you’re saying is helping so many survivors and you don’t even know it. It’s so empowering to see people fighting. Never bow down. Hold each others hands. This is a very personal thing. You need to be there for each other. This is a very different type of protest just because of the personal stories are involved.”
This is a personal issue for Kollaritsch, herself a survivor of sexual assault and a student whose assailant was not punished by an administration that should have protected her.
“For me this [protest] has been empowering. I was silenced by university and police for so long. I’ve really been empowered to stay strong and keep looking ahead. I’ve developed so much solidarity between people I’m fighting with. We have become sisters and brothers. We all share such similar stories.”
As disheartening as it is to see a college refusing to take the necessary steps to make their campus a safe place for their students, it is so inspiring to see students fighting for their right to a supportive environment and a safe education.