Rape culture frustration ignites student-led protests


In response to recent conversations about sexual assault, several students began a movement that gathered crowds of students, faculty and administrators to the steps of Old Main on Friday, April 26.

Senior Lydia Lara, left, senior Ethan Conley-Keck and sophomore SophiaRose Brown, back, deliver speeches at the #MakeAChange rally on Friday, April 26. Photo by Jordan Cone.

Senior Lydia Lara, one of the four organizers of the rally, turned to the 209 assembled and lifted the megaphone speaker to her lips. “If you’re here, you probably know what this is about… I don’t know how many of you there are, but it shows how important this issue is that you’re here.”
This time last year, the campus community experienced widespread unrest when a student spoke publicly about her own assault. After a controversial video from three years ago surfaced on a viral Twitter account, the organizing members of #makeAchange decided to take action through non-violent demonstrations. For many, the cycle of violent events has made it hard to erase sexual assault from their collective memory.
“When I saw the video, I felt disgusted,” sophomore Elizabeth Aniol said. “I feel like with the events that happened last January, it’s more prevalent. It always has been prevalent, but people are finally getting incredibly fed up with the state of things.”
According to first-year student Eden Nimietz, the Twitter video was only a symptom of the larger problem: acceptance of rape culture.
Senior Lydia Lara wipes away tears as a survivor speaks about their experience on Friday, April 26. The rally included speeches, reading from the #makeAchange list of demands and a call to action.

“I think it’s necessary to raise awareness and try to actively bring about change. The only way we can do that is by showing [sexual assault] is an actual problem rather than just covering it up,” Nimietz said. “I think it’s really important to address the systemic issues with this problem.”
With a diverse body of Augustana members from multiple different departments and social circles, the aim of the gathering was to call each other to action.
“As a survivor, seeing everyone participate in this huge event and seeing how much of a big deal it is to everyone on campus – even if they’re not affected – means a lot. That makes me feel more comfortable in my community,” junior Caity Costner said. “It means I have a good, supportive space where I can stay.”
For senior Camille Harris, the rally was a powerful experience that reminded her of survivors’ resilience.
“I walked up and there was just this mood, this vibe that I got from the crowd. I could feel how powerful it was – how serious everyone was about it. And that was my favorite part: just seeing people around me that have had these things happen to them and seen these things happen to other people do something about it and be able to stand up,” Harris said. 
After survivor speeches and reading from the #makeAchange list of demands, crowds moved from Old Main to conduct a sit-in at the Office of Student Life (OSL). There, more survivors delivered speeches and students completed exercises to understand the statistical gravity of sexual assault.
As part of one activity, students were separated into groups of five. One person in each group laid down as a representation of the one in five women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
First-year Leoul Gezu leads the crowd to the Office of Student Life on Friday, April 26. After the class walk-out and opening rally, students participated in a sit-in at the OSL.

Greek Life members took action to show their support and contribute to the conversation during the rally. Greek letters plastered across sweatshirts were seen scattered throughout the crowd.
“There’s many steps as a Greek community member that I have seen taken place within the past Greek council meeting,” senior and Phi Omega Phi president Tre Jones explained, “There’s demonstrations like this making sure all of us are basically heard. Policy changes are being made and that this isn’t going to be an issue that just goes to rest. Like they said a couple times today, this isn’t gonna end after this. This continuation of this conversation needs to keep happening.”
Administration also acknowledged student voices. Augustana’s director of public relations and social media, Ashleigh Johnston, sent an email to the Observer with a list of actions taken by the college this year.
A few of these actions included adding online and in-person trainings for students, faculty and staff, adding bystander intervention training classes for students and adding training for groups like SGA, Greek groups, Community Advisors, athletes and more. Admissions also formed a temporary task force of students, faculty and staff to go over school policies along with engaging with a third-party law firm to review the school’s policies and procedures. The law firm found our policies to be student-focused and fully compliant with state and federal legal requirements.
Some students are aware of the steps admissions has taken this year. Junior Rebecca Garbe said, “I know that the administration is doing as much as they can right now with regard to federal Title IX policy, which has been changed and implements by Betsy DeVos and has made it a lot more difficult for people to report and for survivors to have an experience in reporting that isn’t traumatizing. So I hope that students continue to collaborate and work towards making sexual assault less of a problem on our campus.”
Junior Catherine Priebe emphasized the importance of continuing student involvement after demonstrations like this.
Don’t just show up, tweet about it or talk to your friends about it. Meet with people in leadership roles. Make real change because you can do that,” Priebe said. “If you’re confident enough to tweet about it or say it to your friends, then you should be saying it to administrators, Title IX people and other students on campus that have been working with these issues to help make lasting change on campus, and not just an at event that was pretty incredible and raises a lot of energy, and then for that energy to die down.”
Through all of the events, organizing member and senior Ethan Conley-Keck held onto hope that by standing together, Augustana could overcome the pain of years past.
“I am so happy with how this turned out. I’m so happy. It was peaceful. People were open, honest, listening. It’s really everything that I would have hoped it to be with the one caveat that we can not know for sure,” Conley-Keck said.
“Will this continue into the future? Will we continue to have these conversations? Will this help students learn to help keep their friends accountable? I hope so.”
Jordan Cone, Thea Gonzales and Natalie McMillan contributed to this story. 
Featured photo: Augustana students gather outside on the front steps of Old Main to participate in the #MakeAChange demonstration in the hopes of changing Augustana College’s response to sexual violence on both the administrative and campus level on April 26, 2019. Photo by Ian Murrin.