Column: Campus activism excludes anonymous students


Jasmine Heyward, columnist

At Northeastern, campus advocacy groups exist around essentially every issue. From mental health to environmental sustainability to drug policy, students have many opportunities to find communities working for the same causes.

The groups that have been most successful in changing campus policy have presented stories demonstrating why the current policy is a problem. The Northeastern Sexual Assault Response Coalition, or SARC, demonstrated that the previous Title IX policy violated students’ right to due process, so it was changed.

Then, SARC, along with the Student Government Association, worked to get more confidential resources on campus. As of Feb. 13, staff working in the Office of Prevention and Education at Northeastern are no longer mandated reporters, allowing students to speak with them about Title IX violations without being reported. Previously, all faculty and staff members except for UHCS counselors and spiritual advisors in the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service were required to inform the Office of University Equity and Compliance if a student disclosed that they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.  

To see these policy changes, SARC members have repeatedly told their stories to administration. They’ve explained how an alleged survivor had a class with a Conduct Board member who heard her case. The board, which is composed of trained undergraduate students, decided that the student’s experience was not a sexual assault and the alleged perpetrator wouldn’t be punished. Every time she attended that class, she was reminded of a deeply traumatizing experience.

Another student was reported by a UHCS staff member — a confidential resource — because the clinician was concerned for their safety and explained that experience in detail. One student sued the university for allegedly mishandling a sexual assault case.

But what happens to the students who see flaws in the policy, but don’t want to publicly discuss their history? Maybe they fear retaliation. Maybe they fear stigma in their community. Maybe they haven’t told their parents or a significant other.

These students are cut out of the conversation because there aren’t many opportunities for anonymous advocacy here.

It is possible that a student could contact SARC and see if someone else would be able to tell their story, but that still requires the student to reveal a private and traumatic experience with a few people. While SARC’s leadership would probably be the ultimate safe space, it’s not easy to talk about trauma with anyone. To assume students should be comfortable speaking even with SARC members is to dismiss how difficult it is for most people to address, process and discuss trauma.

Sexual assault survivors are not the only people impacted by this issue. LGBTQA+ students, mentally ill students and disabled students face the same circumstances. These experiences are all stigmatized in our culture, and disclosing them can impact relationships, health care and, although illegally, job opportunities.

Currently, a common accommodation for students with disabilities is receiving notes from another student in the same class. The students are expected to meet with their note taker at the beginning of the semester, but some students have found it uncomfortable to meet their note-taker and explain what they need.

The dynamic is a bit odd — a student is being paid to help another student manage their disability. The student with the accommodation is forced to discuss their academic needs and struggles with a stranger, who could reveal their identity and disability to others.

Yet what would it take for the policy to change? A lot of students with disabilities would have to come forward and publicly explain why they disagree with the current policy.

For students who can’t or won’t discuss their experiences publicly, there isn’t much access to advocating for policy change at Northeastern. If we are committed to creating a student-focused, inclusive campus, student groups and administration both need to consider ways to include these students more effectively.