Dozens of people gathered on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill on Friday to show their support for Christine Blasey Ford and survivors of sexual assault.
During the #BelieveSurvivors rally, held on the 225th birthday of the university, protesters chanted, “However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no.”
Ford, who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were teenagers, graduated from UNC in 1988 with a degree in psychology.
Those who attended the event Friday had two messages, said organizer Hannah Inman, a 21-year-old senior. They wanted to show support for victims of sexual assault, and they also wanted to make it clear to fraternities that they would no longer accept a culture that they say makes women feel unsafe.
Inman said that includes the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which Kavanaugh was a member of during his undergraduate studies at Yale.
Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court last weekend.
“The past few weeks have been hard for us,” Inman said, referring to Ford’s testimony to a U.S. Senate panel. “Many of us have felt pain, anger, have been re-traumatized, and this will only help them to understand they are not alone.”
In between speakers during the rally, the crowd chanted in hopes that officials celebrating University Day in a nearby building would hear their messages.
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which operates the National Assault Hotline. One out of six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape during their lifetime, and one out of 33 men have experienced it, according to the organization.
Meanwhile, six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison, the organization says.
Some speakers at the rally criticized the university police and officials’ response to sexual violence, saying they put more effort into protecting the Silent Sam Confederate statue than protecting victims of sexual violence.
Often victims are told there aren’t enough resources to investigate an assault or a concern, said Lindsay Ayling, a graduate student.
“We know from protesting Silent Sam that when a powerful administration works alongside police there is no limit that they can invest in the issues that they care about,” Ayling said.
Protesters toppled Silent Sam in August, and the university is working to figure out what’s next for the statue.
Some counter-protesters attended the rally Friday, carrying signs that said “we believe in due process” and “support our sons and daughters.”
Gabby Derosier, a UNC sophomore, said counter-protesters wanted to demonstrate a different voice.
“We can all have an opinion,” she said, adding that a difference in opinion doesn’t mean a lack of support for sexual-assault survivors.
As the crowd gathered in a parking lot in Fraternity Court, Emily Bullins said people have had negative experiences there.
“This is a site of violence. That is what we are going to call it,” she said. “There are sexual crimes committed because of the power (fraternities) hold.”
Bullins said it is up to everyone to dismantle that power structure.
Standing in the parking lot, female students told stories, sometimes for the first time, about being assaulted by friends, crushes and cousins, and then trying to come to terms with what happened.
As the women told their stories, they invited fraternity members sitting on the front porch of the Pi Kappa Alpha house to join the rally and support them. And the fraternity members did.
One of the men, 19-year-old Reeves Moseley, said there is an “incredibly visible problem” despite training programs for fraternities and male students on college campuses.
“I think each leader of every fraternity should step up and should be aware and should be starting their own” initiatives and programs that focus on the prevention of sexual assault, Moseley said.
Rally participants asked members of other fraternities to join the rally, but no others did.
Alli Whitenack, a 20-year-old junior, said she walked away from the rally with a new sense of determination to support survivors.
“I am also walking away with a conviction and an understanding that there are institutions on this campus that don’t support survivors,” she said, “like the fraternities that chose to not show up today or chose to stand in their symbols of power and mock and laugh at the show of solidarity.”