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DePaul students react to sexual assault awareness banner at Arts and Letters building

By Dylan Fahoome
On April 23, 2014

Click here for video: DePaul students raise sexual assault awareness banner in Arts and Letters building

Students responded with fervent support after a group of individuals hung two banners protesting the DePaul athletic department in Arts and Letters around 12:50 p.m. Wednesday.

Sophomore Elise Manchester saw the banners as she was leaving her international studies class.

"At first I had to read it and everything before I could really react to it but I also don't know much about what the athletic department's stance has been and administration's stance has been," Manchester said. "But I've heard a lot of talk about the fact that they have just shoved these instances of violence against women and rape under the rug."

Manchester said that students need to question the administration and departments within DePaul to make sure it is living up to its "Vincentian standards." She also noted the rising presence of activism on campus.

"I was at the Allen West protest on Monday night and I think people see that as sort of a radical form of discussion when in reality it is one of the few that will actually be noticed," Manchester said.

"I think that we need to transform in the United States and at DePaul ... because right now people don't view activism as a form of democracy ... I would really love to see both in our country and in our community a turn to that mode of democracy because it can be really influential."

Senior Kara Mort saw the banners briefly as she was heading to class. She said there was a huge crowd of more than fifty people in what she described as "a mess."

"I thought it was very bold, and if it's true, then yeah, I feel like the athletic department should be called out on it," Mort said.

Sophomore Andrea Samardzija did not see the banners, but feels that sexual violence needs to be talked about.

"I've talked to people about rape on different campuses and people are like 'oh that happens everywhere' but usually schools treat it as more of a serious issue than DePaul does," Samardzija said.

"As far as I know it, whenever (sexual assault) happens we get a notification through email and they might put up signs that aren't really noticeable in different buildings here, but the fact that the elevator in the Lewis Center stopped working and DePaul just felt the need to call all of us and leave multiple messages and send us a ton of notifications but they don't feel the need to do that when there's a crime on campus or a sexual assault is really, really bad ... really pathetic."

Samardzija, originally from Highland Park, Ill., described an incident of sexual assault that happened at her high school, claiming that the high school was more vocal about confronting the incident. 

"I don't know what DePaul does to keep people quiet, but I'm assuming it's not necessarily something that would be ethical because otherwise why would people stay quiet when they're getting raped?" Samardzija said.

Freshman Katherine Ferolito was actually told to stay quiet in certain situations, advice she received at a workshop about sexual assault. 

"I was told by a teacher at DePaul University that if something ever happens to me on campus that I should not call public safety - I should go right to the police because public safety will ... try and talk the person out of filing a report ... but if you call the police they have to file a report and that has to go on the number they tell accepted students and prospective students about the crime rates at the school," Ferolito said.

Ferolito, an individual who has experienced sexual assault, felt "empowered" when she saw the banner, and that her voice was being heard. She doesn't claim herself a victim as she feels that it means the perpetrator won, nor survivor as it means she won. Instead, she says she is "surviving."

"The second - it was a male officer, too - the second he brought out the pair of scissors and started cutting it down, I was like 'wow, someone's finally getting to say something and that's all of my power being cut away,'" Ferolito said, holding back tears.

"They took down the banner but we still have the pictures of it people can spread around," Ferolito said.

Spread it did ‒ on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram ‒ even attracting attention from the international network "Anonymous."

According to information from the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year. Less than 5 percent of completed or attempted rapes against college women were reported to law enforcement.

As sexual assault awareness month continues, this display of activism has sparked a campus-wide discussion, one that freshman Jeremy Martens feels wasn't there before.

Martens also recognized the effectiveness of choosing to put up the banners in such a busy building immediately after classes were released, and that it was not unlike a "public performance." 

"I just think the image of seeing all those people gathered around speaking, saying something, whether or not it was good ... just staring at it ... I've never experienced anything like that before in my life," Martens said.

"I wish it didn't take a spectacle like that to get people excited or passionate about an issue that's so important,"Martens'friend, freshman Delia Van, said."However that really is a powerful sight and it is starting conversation which is the first step to making any changes."


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