Stony Brook University says it’s HeForShe, but is it really?
I walk into the student media suite on the third floor of the Student Activities Center at least once a day, and until recently, I hadn’t even noticed the 4-foot poster of Aziz Ansari directly next to its entrance. The poster is from his show at the Staller Center for the Arts in 2011, seven years before the comedian was accused of sexual assault.
Passing the poster every day serves as a reminder that despite being a HeForShe University IMPACT Champion, Stony Brook has failed to be a vocal part of the #MeToo movement that has taken over our country these past four months. As a HeForShe university, Stony Brook committed to “integrate gender equality into the academic and social experience of Stony Brook University.” The university shows proof of its so-called commitment by highlighting the equal graduation rates among male and female students on its website. But a commitment to gender equality goes far beyond data.
Fighting for gender equality means actively and vocally working to take down systems that create inequality. And if there was ever a time that was needed, it would be right now. The #MeToo movement is a part of building the gender-equal world that the HeForShe campaign fights for, yet the Stony Brook administration has remained silent as the movement has grown.
The conversation about sexual assault on college campuses started long before the MeToo hashtag went viral. One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while at college, but only 10 percent of survivors report their cases, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. By those statistics, there are roughly 2,147 survivors on campus that the university has failed.
I had the privilege of attending the public forum with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke at Stony Brook that was held on Jan. 27 (which was organized by outside organizations, not the university). Much of the forum was centered around how community action helps pave the road for healing. Community healing, Burke said, is starting a dialogue with a cross-section of people from the community so that policies protecting survivors and making them feel safe can be made. The only effort Stony Brook has made to start this dialogue has been the HeForShe Ideathon, which is not an event started by the university but rather a global HeForShe initiative.
When the #MeToo movement first started, I had such faith in Stony Brook as a HeForShe university to show in some way that it supported the movement. However, with each day that went by without an email from the administration or a message from President Stanley, I grew increasingly frustrated. I was shocked that a campus administration that has vocalized its support of Dreamers, Muslims and transgender people in this past year alone has not made an active effort to tell the survivors of abuse on its campus that it stands with them. I have to wonder – is the university silent because it faces an ongoing lawsuit for allegedly mishandeling a Title IX case? Or is it because of the three sexual harassment cases at Stony Brook University Hospital that were settled by the state? Or could it be because the hiring and silent firing of Swimming and Diving Head Coach Janelle Atkinson is an example of how Stony Brook has failed to “integrate gender equality” on campus? Atkinson allegedly mentally abused players, including allegedly telling a player her anxiety was caused by her own mishandling of being sexually assaulted. How could a HeForShe university allow for this kind of behavior to go on for as long as it did, much less allow Atkinson to slip out quietly?
No person or institution wants to face their ugly truth, but the #MeToo Movement has shown us that we need to stare our ugly truths in the face for them to go away. If Stony Brook and other major institutions continue to sweep their failures under the rug to be allies for survivors, then the cycle of abuse will never end.