Last Thursday, Oct. 4, students all around Maine and the United States made their voices heard as a part of the National Student Day of Action. The University of Maine Women’s Resource Center joined in by organizing a rally for sexual assault survivors.
This rally was in part an effort to speak up against Judge Brett Kavanaugh — who was a candidate for the Supreme Court at the time — namely because of his alleged sexual assault.
The Women’s Resource Center, who organized the Walkout for Survivors, is a safe space on campus whose mission is to “make campus safer and more accepting for all its students,” according to the group’s Facebook page. The center also says that it is dedicated to raising awareness of feminist issues.
Regarding the event itself, the center gave the following statement: “The Women’s Resource Center is a safe space on campus and was designed to be here for students of all identities. The Women’s Resource Center supports survivors and the Walkout for Survivors was our way of showing love and solidarity for UMaine students who have experienced sexual assault and/ or domestic violence. October is domestic violence awareness month, and with the Kavanaugh hearings occurring, we thought survivors needed a chance to be heard in their own community. Survivors deserve a voice, a space of their own where deniers and victim blamers are not allowed. They want to be heard and their feelings and experiences not to be pushed aside for once.”
Julia Haberstick, a fourth-year women and gender studies student, was the main organizer of the event. She said that the event was an opportunity to rally and mobilize students on campus with a common interest.
“It is very important to folks here to let people know they aren’t alone. It does not feel like a safe political environment, so we wanted to gather and let everyone know that they are not alone, and encourage people to call Senator Collins and let her know that this is where we stand,” Haberstick said.
Though this event was organized around the confirmation hearing of Kavanaugh, some people, such as third-year social work student Claudia Cummings, were there in support of the broader movement to support victims of sexual assault.
“I see this as an issue where we need to step back from politics and look at the bigger picture to see this is about women coming forward,” Cummings said.
The event started out with a few opening remarks from the Director of the Rising Tide Center for Gender Equity and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies program Susan Gardner, who talked about prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Gardner notes that sexual assault is especially common in the first six weeks of college.
Following Gardner’s introduction, four people came forward to share personal experiences and poetry about sexual assault and the frustrations they felt about the Kavanaugh hearings. The floor was then opened to anyone else who wanted to share their story. With that, four more people came down to express their thoughts on the current movement and ensure their support for all survivors.
Members of the UMaine College Republicans also attended to show support for the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
When speakers were invited to come forward, one member took the opportunity to share feelings about the allegations towards Brett Kavanaugh, though this person was not met with as much support from those there to support survivors.
“We are here to peacefully protest and show that there are other people and different opinions about this,” said College Republicans Vice President Jeremiah Childs.
Members noted that they believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and because of that, the allegations by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford should not have hindered Kavanaugh’s nomination to Supreme Court.
Following the speeches, a large majority of the crowd went to march around the UMaine mall. However, several people stayed behind to talk with some of the College Republicans and other bystanders who may have had differing opinions. During this period, there were no confrontations. People talked, debated and exchanged their views with civility — a rarity with an issue that has proven so divisive to many Americans.
After the event, people were invited to meet in the Women’s Resource Center if they wanted to further discuss their feelings on the issues.