By Logan Meyer, news staff
A banner hung by Northeastern’s Sexual Assault Response Coalition (SARC) reading “Students stand with survivors” was removed by a university staff member from the roof deck of Curry Student Center on Thursday.
The approximately six-foot banner went up at 10:17 a.m., right as dozens of students and touring high schoolers made their way across campus. Just after noon, a male staff member arrived and cut down the banner, despite objections from nearby students. SARC then moved the sign to a railing alongside Snell Library, which remained in the library quad until the end of the day.
The worker, who declined to give his name, said he had received a complaint from Northeastern’s Facilities Division and that the group did not have permission to display the banner. A woman in the library quad who identified herself as the worker’s supervisor declined to comment.
“It’s disappointing that the university wouldn’t allow us our right to free speech,” said SARC President Roxanne Anderson, a senior human services major. “Northeastern’s rules on free speech are limiting and arbitrary, evident of a kind of maniacal control over students.”
Northeastern spokesperson Matthew McDonald said in an email to The News that the banner was not removed because of its message, but because the group did not have permission to hang it on university property.
“Organizations and individuals must receive approval to hang banners or signs on Northeastern property,” McDonald said. “The students were asked to remove the sign, regardless of its content, because the students had not requested or received prior approval.”
According to the Student Organization Resource Guide, peaceful gatherings and demonstrations are permitted under university policy. However, student groups must obtain permission from the Center for Student Involvement. The guide does not explicitly define what constitutes a demonstration, and SARC did not apply for permission from the university.
Anderson said planning for the demonstration began last week, shortly after The News reported that Northeastern student Morgan Helfman was suing the university and several administrators for allegedly mishandling her 2013 sexual assault case.
“Our action is a direct response to the lawsuit and the university’s lack of response,” Anderson said.
SARC wants to make it clear that there are students at Northeastern who are ready to support and fight for survivors of sexual assault, she said. The group also aims to prompt administrators to change the way the university handles assaults.
“We’re hoping this will lead to some sort of positive reaction from the university, but we’re not necessarily expecting one,” Anderson said. “In a time where everything fuels aggression, we’re looking to make this message more supportive.”
SARC and its members also hope to start a productive dialogue with students and the administration on how to build a culture that does not tolerate sexual assault and to improve university resources for survivors, Anderson said.
They plan to act in collaboration with other student groups such as DivestNU, she said. In October, SARC signed on to stand with DivestNU in their occupation of Centennial Common over the university’s refusal to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.
“As part of that partnership, we agree that as they support us in our actions, that we will offer our support in any way possible for them,” said Ollie Fishstein, a DivestNU member and a junior combined computer engineering and computer science major. “They build this community and have mutual solidarity.”
Another Northeastern student hung a banner outside the window of her West Village A residence hall on Monday reading, “Northeastern protects rapists.” The student, Mackenzie Coleman, told The News she was allegedly pressured by the university to take it down later that day.
While both Coleman’s sign and the SARC banner were in response to Helfman’s recent lawsuit, Anderson said SARC did not want to attack the university with their demonstration.
Instead, SARC and its partners hope to send a message of solidarity to survivors of sexual assault who may feel ignored by the system.
“We just want students to know we support them and will fight when the university does not,” Anderson said.
The demonstration was not initially met with a controversial reaction from students, something for which the groups said they are thankful.
“I think it’s good that it’s not controversial because it would kind of be super disheartening to hear students be like, ‘No, I don’t agree that we should stand with survivors,’” Fishstein said. “That would be problematic.”
Throughout the day, SARC posted tips on their Facebook page on ways students can support sexual assault survivors.
SARC, in collaboration with the Feminist Student Organization, will hold a community gathering at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16 in the Social Justice Resource Center. The gathering will provide a space for survivors and allies to speak out about sexual violence both on and off campus, reflect on Helfman’s lawsuit against the university and discuss how students can support survivors at Northeastern.
Anderson said SARC members are unsure of their next step, but that they will continue their demonstrations.
“We’ll react more strongly in the future,” she said. “[The university taking down the banner] says a lot about their values.”
Photo courtesy SARC