The Georgetown S.T.O.P. Coalition, which advocates for black female survivors of sexual assault, called for greater trauma support for black women and femmes on campus in a letter delivered to the office of University Provost Robert Groves on March 22.
The petition has garnered signatures from 315 undergraduate students, including Georgetown University Student Association President Norman Francis Jr. (COL ’20) and Vice President Aleida Olvera (COL ’20).
The letter drop was organized by S.T.O.P. and preceded by a walkout into Red Square. The drop comes after a March 13 discussion about masculinity hosted by the Black House revealed a lack of resources and university support for black women and femmes, according to the petition.
Chloe Diggs (COL ’19), co-organizer of S.T.O.P., read the letter to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Senior Associate Dean Adanna Johnson in the lobby of the provost’s office, requesting an official response to the letter’s demands by March 29. Olson thanked the students for the letter and promised a response would be issued by their requested deadline.
The university must listen to black women about their experiences to develop appropriate resources, said Nile Blass (COL ’22), a student involved in the letter drop.
“It’s OK, in dealing with these types of issues and hearing the way that black women feel, if you don’t have any inherent experience tied to it,” Blass said. “It’s OK to not know; it’s just not OK to dismiss them or to dismiss us.”
The proposal calls for the hiring of an additional black trauma specialist. Currently, Jennifer Wiggins, assistant director for sexual assault response and prevention services, is the only black trauma specialist working on campus.
The letter also requests the university increase representation of black professionals in the Title IX office and the Office of Student Conduct to assist students with filing Title IX reports. The university has not had a full-time Title IX coordinator since Laura Cutway left her position unexpectedly in June 2018. Samantha Berner has been serving as both Title IX investigator and Title IX coordinator as the university searches for a new coordinator.
However, the university should not neglect qualifications and experience in pursuit of increased representation, Blass said.
“It’s not just hiring more black people, it’s hiring reputable, comprehensive, educated-in-that-area-of-policy black women and men and nonbinaries who can handle these things,” Blass said. “What I don’t want is for us to be so committed in pushing forward for diversity and then it not actually be represented in the policies because the black people that they then hire in response aren’t actually educated, experienced and prepared in the areas they’re supposed to help us grow.”
S.T.O.P. is designed to be an acronym that can be interpreted multiple ways, according to the petition. While the “S” always stands for survivors, the following three letters are interchangeable for phrases based on each survivor’s interpretation, according to the petition.
Potential meanings include Survivors Targeting Oppressive Policies, Survivors Taking Out Perpetrators, Survivors Transforming Our Pain, Survivors Taking Our Place, Survivors Telling Our Perspectives and Survivors Tending Organic Power.
In addition to greater representation in campus offices, S.T.O.P. seeks to develop comprehensive sexual assault education on campus that goes beyond programming developed by Health Education Services. The coalition also aims to strengthen relationships between ally offices such as the Women’s Center and implement increased implicit bias training for Georgetown University Police Department officers that is designed with student input.
Students also proposed an evaluation and oversight system under which S.T.O.P. would publish a letter grade for the university each semester based on its compliance with the coalition’s demands. Students’ voices must be included to ensure that any new initiatives are in touch with the needs of black women and femmes on campus, Diggs told Olson at the drop.
Coalition leaders intentionally made the language around gender identity in the letter inclusive to all female-identifying individuals, according to Diggs.
“In this letter, the use of ‘womxn,’ as opposed to ‘women,’ is meant to speak directly to the experiences of both black women and femmes,” Diggs said.
Olson told the students that initial discussions about the letter would take place internally when asked by Shakera Vaughan (COL ’19), president of Georgetown University Women of Color, if students would be part of the administration’s discussions in response to the letter.
“I see all your concerns as legitimate,” Olson said. “I don’t know what else to say in this moment. I take it very seriously. I promise that we will answer that question directly by next Friday. I don’t know what more I can say that would be satisfying.”
Vaughan told Olson that the university’s actions in response to the letter are more important than a written or verbal response.
Blass hopes the university will take serious action to provide the desired resources and stressed the role allyship plays in S.T.O.P.’s work.
“It can’t just be us,” Blass said. “Because if it’s just us who are outraged, who are upset, who see the necessity of change, then nothing’s going to get done, because we can’t really do it by ourselves.”
Correction: This article has been updated with the correct last name of Nile Blass.