Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault, coercion, and Title IX.
Students from college campuses across the U.S. and the U.K. have been organizing to call attention to and fight against sexual violence within college communities through the University Survivors Movement. This coalition of student activists initially launched an Instagram page in November and has since sparked a wave of Instagram accounts for specific colleges being created to anonymously lift the voices of survivors within their campus’ community. Members of the Whittier College community have come together to create one of these accounts.
The Voices of Whittier College (@voicesofwc) began posting on Sunday, Feb. 7 by announcing that they would be joining the University Survivors Movement “in protest to end sexual violence on college campuses.” While the group running the account wishes to remain anonymous for their own safety, privacy, and protection, the four students and one alumnus have been working since last summer with student and alumni survivors and allies in conversations about sexual assault culture on Whittier College’s campus.
Voices of Whittier College’s mission is to “bring awareness about sexual misconduct, assault, harassment and violence” at Whittier College with the goal of acknowledgment about these cultural issues from the College administration. More specifically, the group hopes to see better handling of Title IX, more effort from administration in the Gender Equity Taskforce, support groups independent of Title IX, and further prevention measures and training. Voices of Whittier College also hopes to see yearly climate surveys conducted and made public for the honesty and transparency of the administration.
“The Title IX process has been retraumatizing for many survivors and without any significant consequences for perpetrators of sexual violence,” said Voices of Whittier College. “We believe the Title IX coordinator position is too important to be taken on by someone who already has a full-time job at the school and cannot devote the proper time to survivors and prevention work.”
Protesting issues on campus during remote instruction calls for adapting to an approach that will reach the College community. As such, Voices of Whittier College is providing resources for virtual protest through using the tools Zoom and social media provide. The group has provided graphic banners for Zoom backgrounds that read: “Whittier College has a sexual assault problem. Stand in Solidarity with Survivors.” They have also created Instagram profile photo graphics with the same message, for users to show their support for survivors of the College community while drawing attention to the issue.
Two days after the account’s original post, Voices of Whittier College also began to post anonymous stories from students, alumni, faculty, and staff that feel comfortable sharing their story of sexual misconduct related to the college campus or community. This anonymous public forum comes months after Instagram account @blackatwhittier was created last June, which created a safe space for Black students, alumni, or faculty to share their stories of discrimination.
In fact, Black At Whittier became a direct inspiration for the students behind Voices at Whittier College. “We decided not to start this page during the summer because we did not want to take attention away from the Black At Whittier movement,” said Voices of Whittier. “They were doing such important work and inspired us.”
In order to protect the safety and privacy of survivors who wish to share their stories, The Voices of WC created an anonymous submission form, which can be found through the link in the Instagram account’s bio.
In addition to providing a platform for anonymous stories, the account has compiled multiple posts and links for education and support resources. For example, one post defines and describes “sexual coercion,” which is an often misunderstood and overlooked type of sexual misconduct.
At the time of this article’s publication, Whittier College has yet to address the account or the issues it is highlighting. Voices of Whittier College says that a few individual administrators have reached out to the account to express their support, though the group is still awaiting public acknowledgment. “This page has been up for at least a week and [Whittier College] has said NOTHING about their MASSIVE FAILURES regarding sexual abuse,” commented class of 2019 alumni Grace Reeder on a @voicesofwc post. “Listen to your students!”
Associate Students of Whittier College posted a statement on Instagram addressing their commitment “to supporting and working with students to amplify voices and to work in partnership with the organizations on campus to see it through” in relation to the Voices of WC Instagram account. The statement also stated the support of “any bills, conversations, and education of sexual misconduct on college campuses globally.”
This comes while a student-led bill created to address “systemic issues within the [Whittier College] institution when it comes to Title IX and demand accountability and support from the institution” is currently being rewritten. The unfinished “Systematically Addressing Systemic Issues in Societal and Athletic Culture Bill,” which was originally created in July, was twice read at the Senate during the Fall 2020 semester. The authors decided to rewrite the bill after the last reading, with the intention to propose the new version in March.
“We also know that a bill is being introduced in senate about sexual assault and we fully support all initiatives in that bill,” said Voices of Whittier College. “This is not the first time students have felt the need to write bills regarding sexual assault on campus [. . .] but the institution has decided not to take action.”
ASWC has also created an anonymous submission forum that asks students what they would like to see from administration and what resources they would like to see provided. The form also asks what Senate bills or initiatives could “prevent and address [sexual assault] at Whittier.”
“The fact that students felt the need to create a page like [@voicesofwc] is a reflection of the lack of work, help, and resources of the Whittier College administration,” said Voices of Whittier College. “It shows the failure of the administration to ensure our safety. Students and student survivors shouldn’t feel the need to educate and provide safe spaces for survivors.”
In the upcoming weeks, Voices of Whittier College is hoping to increase their account’s engagement and encourage students to share their experiences. Though, in the long term, they hope to stress the importance and relevance of issues of sexual assault on campus by showing administration that it is not an individual case, but, rather, a schoolwide climate that demands to be addressed for the safety of students.
“We want to thank the Whittier College community for all their support. This could not be possible without them,” Voices of WC said to the Quaker Campus. “Thank you for standing with survivors. We are sure change can be done.”
Feature image: Courtesy of @VoicesofWC