Montclair State University students gathered outside of the Student Center on Thursday, March 24 to raise awareness about sexual assaults and harassment on campus, as well as protest the university’s responses to victims.
Protesters carried large signs stating messages such as “real men take no for an answer,” “my dress does not mean yes” and “our body is our temple, do not take it without consent.”
Once the group started their march, they began chanting messages directed toward the school, including “we paid thousands of dollars on this campus,” “we deserve our educations and to be safe while pursuing our education,” “we won’t stand for this no more,” “our voices should be heard and we demand safety for victims at [Montclair State]” and “we demand justice at [Montclair State].”
While walking, the group grew in size, amassing roughly 30 people. After reaching the corner of Susan A. Cole Hall, protestors formed a discussion and support circle, allowing one another to speak up about their experiences. In addition, many students made remarks about Montclair State’s handling of sexual assault reports.
One of the organizers of the protest, Kenia Akridge, a sophomore fine arts major, expressed strong feelings toward the school.
“They need to take victims more seriously and stop dismissing charges in cases for lack of evidence while so many rapists and sexual assaulters post about it on Instagram,” Akridge said. “Change starts with [Montclair State] taking us seriously and there being consequences to actions. The school is willing to take so much in parking fines and put a hold on your account if they aren’t paid, but what do they do with rapists? Nothing.”
Hannah, a junior family science and human development major who requested to be identified by first name only, was an active participant in the protest and also expressed her concern as a student.
“It’s despicable and deplorable,” Hannah said. “We shouldn’t have to worry about this. It’s sad that as a woman I carry pepper spray, an alarm and several keys on me to make sure I’m safe on campus. I want to raise my voice and say listen, ‘you need to take your victims seriously and not silence them.’”
Hannah asks the administration to believe victims when they are trying to advocate for themselves.
“Believe them,” Hannah said. “Don’t accuse them of lying, don’t ask ‘what were you wearing?’ or ‘oh, where were you?’ None of that matters. What matters is they had their choice taken away and they need to be heard.”
Hannah also encouraged those who are a victim of sexual assault to speak up for themselves.
“Speak up when you need to,” Hannah said. “I understand that’s not always the easiest thing as you’re experiencing trauma because I also understand, just as we’re saying here, our university often doesn’t hear people who speak up and it may feel useless to you. But the more you speak up and the more people talk about it, the more this conversation will circulate and the faster things will change.”
Greyson Beato, a sophomore visual arts major, played a significant role in the protest, walking at the front and talking to the group. He also discussed his experience contacting campus police for a friend.
“No victim, whether they are male, female or non-binary, deserves to have their voice silenced,” Beato said. “Everyone’s voice must be taken seriously. When I attempted to report a friend’s assaulter, the officer told me that the victim must come in personally, but he also dismissed her assault by asking why she didn’t come in immediately.”
Most passing students and faculty simply glanced towards the protest and went on their way. However, Jake DiLoreto, a freshman undecided, shouted his encouragement and approval toward the group.
“I am happy to see people spreading awareness about the matter going on at this school,” DiLoreto said. “All I have to say is let’s make a change.”
Andrew Mees, the university spokesperson, said Montclair State is committed to fostering an environment where people feel safe and all members of the community can learn and grow while being treated with respect.
“We take situations involving potential harassment of any kind extremely seriously,” Mees said. “Any claim brought to the university’s attention is thoroughly investigated, and action is taken when appropriate.”