A sexual assault petition called for more security. Then came the setback.

After a spate of sexual assaults at the University of Pittsburgh, the Internet petition appeared last week calling for increased campus security. Within 24 hours, it collected 6,000 signatures and attracted more than 100 students to a protest that disrupted the university’s homecoming performance. University officials answered with several new security measures.

Just as quickly there was a student backlash, the petition was deleted and it was long sorry the petition’s apparent support for more policing appeared anonymously on Reddit.

The controversy at the University of Pittsburgh illustrates the challenges of campus activism involving social media, which can mobilize students for a few hours but often ignites so quickly that there is little room for course adjustment. In the wake of the protest, students have indicated that the university’s demands for action — which include students’ diverse visions of what a safer campus should look like — cannot be thrown together in a hurry.

Although the petition left some unmarked, the students spoke up Chronicle that recent events have opened a campus-wide dialogue about sexual assault prevention and safety — and inspired students to advocate for further change.

The petition was created last Thursday in response to an alleged sexual assault that took place in the central building of the university’s main campus, the Cathedral of Learning. The author of the petition has not been publicly named; the Reddit user who posted an apology about the petition claimed to be the creator of the petition and an 18-year-old university student.

The petition proposed that the university limit student access to buildings, increase the use of regularly monitored security cameras and increase security “in general.” It also called for “deportation for any attempted rape”. The incident was the third sexual assault crime alert issued by University Police since the beginning of the semester. Pitt Newsstudent newspaper.

“Take It All Back”

The list of demands circulated widely among Pitt students on social media, spreading from Yik Yak to Instagram within hours. More than 100 students gathered for a demonstration the next day, demanding action from the university and sharing personal experiences of sexual assault. Later in the afternoon, some protesters held up signs behind the university’s marching band, which performed in front of the Cathedral of Learning as part of Pitt’s homecoming celebration.

Some speakers at the protest discussed the petition’s shortcomings.

After Friday’s protest, the university sent a campus-wide email informing students that it was taking additional measures to improve campus safety, including increased security and police patrols in the building known as Cathy.

The backlash came in part from those concerned that an increased police presence would threaten the safety of students of color. Some students shared these concerns at the protest, and others expressed their displeasure through comments on a lengthy Reddit thread.

Clyde Wilson Pickett, the university’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, spoke. Chronicle in a statement that his office is “doing campus outreach” to better understand the concerns of students of color to “make sure they are heard and know we are there for them.”

The key is to make it easier for victims to report sexual assault and harder for perpetrators to get away with it.

Other students criticized the petition for being hastily written and for not including feedback from sexual assault prevention organizations on campus and in the community. The campus chapter of Take Back the Night helped publicize the protest and facilitate the conversation last Friday, but senior and group leader Amanda Carson said the chapter did not organize the event or create the petition.

Junior Sharon Bennett, who helped lead the protesters Friday, agreed the petition wasn’t perfect. The language it used and the demands it made were not set in stone. Still, Bennett said it helped move the conversation forward.

On Saturday, a person claiming to be the creator of the petition posted on Reddit that he wished he could “take everything back” and said he was considering taking a leave of absence or transferring schools entirely.

“The fact that campus police appear to be being added because of something I did makes me a monster and I know it,” the person wrote in an apology posted a day after the protest. “I’ve never done anything like this in my life, and it blew up faster than I could have ever imagined.” The internet response to the post was overwhelmingly sympathetic.

Amelia Aceves, a sophomore who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they agree the petition did good: It got people talking about sexual assault. “I think that person blamed himself a lot more than was necessary,” Aceves said of the petitioner.

Still, Aceves said they were disappointed when they initially read requirements that didn’t seem feasible or well-researched. Aceves believed that the petition was publicized by people who have no direct experience with sexual assault or the reporting process.

“I’m glad everyone was angry, but I think the anger was really misdirected,” they said.

Aceves didn’t attend the rally due to a scheduling conflict, but they heard from friends who attended that it was comforting to share their pain with other sexual assault survivors.

Frustrations over Title IX

Aceves said they were assaulted in their freshman dorm room last November and the nearly year-long Title IX investigation that followed left them frustrated.

They said the Title IX office was understaffed, and as a result the investigation process was drawn out and murky. The student they accused ended up getting shot in the wrist, Aceves said. After learning the student had the support of an attorney, Aceves decided to forego a formal hearing and instead sought an informal resolution that does not include the possibility of suspension or expulsion.

Aceves said they were not informed that they would have to have counsel during the process. They said the university also did not provide them with information about external resources such as support centers. At Pitt, Aceves said, “If you’re sexually assaulted, it’s not worth going to Title IX” because the investigation process can be long and traumatic.

In the comment sent to the address Chronicle, a university spokeswoman acknowledged that the university must provide trained counselors to assist when one of the parties undergoing an investigation does not have one, but said that “finding qualified counselors has been difficult.” The spokesperson also acknowledged staffing challenges at the Title IX office: “The office’s reporting volume has increased significantly since the pandemic, and it will take time to meet those needs.”

The experience left Aceves with many ideas about what needs to change so that other survivors of sexual assault can feel supported. Specifically, they want more funding to go to the Title IX office, as well as more resources — like support groups — that are readily available to survivors.

Ryan Walter, Jr., who spoke at the protest, went through its own Title IX investigation that lasted about ten months. While she described the process as long, drawn out and “incredibly stressful,” she said it wasn’t necessarily a negative experience.

The student he accused is no longer on campus, which makes Walter feel better. But she still doesn’t feel safe knowing how often sexual assault happens. He hears several “through the grapevine” stories every week.

That’s why Walter is one of the students advocating for increased campus security. He and his peers want to see the sweepstakes system that was in place during Covid restored. This would close the buildings to the public and make it easier to monitor entry and exit.

The group is also in favor of installing security cameras in the stairwells where the assault took place last week. Importantly, Walter said the measures do not require an increased police presence on campus, which he believes should be a last resort.

A university spokesperson said Chronicle that the University’s Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management and its partners review our security measures and policies, which include considerations such as map access, staff deployment, and communication methods, and listen to the concerns and ideas of our community. which would make them feel more secure in implementing additional measures.

While Aceves agrees that increased surveillance measures can be helpful, they say the emphasis on security ignores the fact that most assaults on campus happen in a dorm room between people who know each other.

The Aceves are currently working with people they met through the support group to advocate for changes to Title IX. They want to use the momentum from the protest to continue dialogue and make meaningful change. Walter plans to attend a town hall hosted by the university soon and meet with administrators to discuss his concerns.

Aceves said the key is to make it easier for victims to report sexual assault and harder for perpetrators to get away with it.

“If people know that we have a good Title IX office that follows up immediately and conducts these hearings and does it in a fair way, rapists won’t get away with it as much.”

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