‘Can I trust the institution?’ Students push UM to change sexual assault reporting policy
(WXYZ) – The annual Take Back the Night rally returns to the University of Michigan campus Thursday night. The event is a protest against sexual assault and an opportunity to support survivors.
Pamela Swider, who runs the Students Against Rape Society and organizes the rally, says they will be hosting keynote speaker Drew Dixon, music producer and #silencebreaker. She was featured in the HBO documentary, “On the Record”, where she told her story of sexual violence in the world of hip-hop.
This year, students, survivors, and community leaders tackle rape culture and see what it really takes to make a campus safe from sexual assault.
Swider says there’s a general lack of trust in how the University of Michigan handles reports of sexual assault.
“I had several friends who were allegedly assaulted by members of frat parties or other people on campus and they felt like every time they reported they were being directed to some kind of office of dispute resolution as opposed to any type of disciplinary board,” Kaitlyn said. Collier, a senior at the University of Michigan.
Survivors and advocates believe that policies only change when something bad happens.
In 2021, UM settled a $490 million lawsuit after more than a thousand men came forward accusing former campus doctor Robert E. Anderson of sexual assault.
“Universities have kind of been hijacked, we know it’s happening, what are you guys doing about it and they’re slowly making changes that need to happen, but in my opinion is that enough?” No,” Swider said.
Under the terms of the lawsuit, UM agreed to create a coordinated response team that would better represent the wants and needs of the community.
Kaaren Williams is the director of the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Center (SAAPC) at UM.
While at SAAPC, they allowed survivors to report an assault online. The process includes assigning advocates who guide them through the next steps. They also have anti-retaliation policies in place for people who report abuse.
“People are trying to figure out, ‘can I trust the institution? Can I trust what I hear?’ I think it’s going to take time and it’s going to take effort and it’s going to take evidence,” Williams said.
Collier and Swider were discouraged in January when university president Mark Schissel was fired for having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.
“It’s incredibly painful and the university needs to address that somehow,” Collier said. “I think his current strategy of ‘oh, this is painful, I can’t believe this happened at our university’, it’s not working. We need to do something different.”
This will not happen overnight. Collier knows it, and so does the university.
Fortunately, students feel empowered to demand their own change through Take Back the Night. It will be the first time since the pandemic that the event will take on its full scope.
“We created it to be a celebration because no one celebrates healing and it’s inspiring to see people we know being afraid to identify as survivors and then they come to our event and they can,” Swider said.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. so you can visit local organizations showing up at the event with the rally starting at 7 p.m. and the march immediately after. It will take place at the UM Union Rogel Ballroom. It’s free to the public.