To the survivor in the spin room: We stand with you
The video, shared on Twitter by Kansas City journalist Christa Dubill, has been retweeted almost 13,000 times. It is one minute and 52 seconds long. A red long-sleeved shirt, the required uniform for all Washington University student debate volunteers that became ubiquitous on campus in the days leading up to the debate. A bathroom—the tiles and countertop are nondescript, but in a familiar way. It is in the Athletic Complex, but it could be anywhere on campus.
Moments before, she’d been in the brightly lit spin room. In the midst of flashing cameras and running journalists, she confronted Omarosa Manigault, the director of African-American outreach for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign, identified herself as a survivor of abuse, and then asked: How did she justify her support for a nominee whose past comments have exemplified sexual assault?
Omarosa Manigault’s response was, in a word, dismissive. She claimed to be sorry it had happened to her as she brushed her away, ready to move on to other questions from reporters.
“But don’t come yelling at me, because I wasn’t a part of it,” Manigault said to her. “I wasn’t a part of what happened to you.”
This exchange is something we cannot afford to ignore. It goes against every effort our community has made in recent years to open up the conversation about preventing sexual assault and interpersonal violence. It happened on our campus; it attacked one of our own. And it’s wrong.
Washington University has very publicly joined the national campaign against sexual assault on college campuses. It’s called “It’s On Us,” and this name is neither arbitrary nor a mistake. It is a purposeful acknowledgement of the fact that, as much as we may want to deny it, acts of sexual assault cannot neatly be separated from what we see as our culture. Sexual assault is not an unpleasant tumor that can be cleanly excised, leaving our hands spotless as we send our condolences to those afflicted. If it is happening here, our hands are still dirty.
The pledge for It’s On Us reads as follows: “I pledge…To recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. To identify situations in which sexual assault may occur. To intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. To create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”
An environment in which survivors of sexual assault are dismissed as “not our problem” is not an environment we will tolerate. It’s easy to make excuses for why we should let comments like these slide: We’re uncomfortable. We’re intimidated. It’s inconvenient. It’s too late. They probably didn’t mean it like that. We owe it to ourselves, our peers and our campus not to fall into that trap. We owe it to you.
In the video in the bathroom, she’s clearly upset—with good reason to be. We are upset, too. Her experiences were minimized and dismissed, and that shouldn’t happen in the kind of place we want our campus to be.
To stand tall and speak out against the rape culture that still permeates our campus and campuses around the country was incredibly brave, and a huge step toward fighting back against the normalization of sexual assault. As we stand in the spotlight projected by the national media on our University, it’s our turn to stand by you and take our pledge to actively resist bystander culture. It’s no longer just on you. It’s on us, too.