The student led group “Look Us In The Eyes” shared their experience while speaking out for better treatment of victims of sexual assault. (Photo by Keely McConomy)

By Nathan McIvor Vice-President

   On Friday February 15th, a crowd gathered in Olsen Student Center in movement of solidarity against sexual assault on campus, with President Eric Brown in attendance. Individuals stepped forward to share their stories of sexual assault, thoughts on how the culture treats women, or reforms the University must make in handling Title IX cases.  After someone finished their piece, the crowd shouted “Look Me In The Eyes!”

    The gathering was spurred by a Bangor Daily News (BDN) article that brought to light two sexual assault cases at UMF where the accused were found responsible, but the Title IX panel’s findings were overturned by former President Kathryn Foster, allowing the alleged perpetrators to stay on campus. “Look Me In The Eyes” formed immediately following the article’s release.

   The coalition advocates for improved sexual assault response policies and serves as a sort of community outreach “for students who feel passionate about sexual assault prevention and Title IX rights,” said Claudia Intama, an administrator for the Facebook group, in a previous interview for the Flyer (“Student Activists Make Themselves Known” Feb. 2019).

   Amanda Whitten stepped forward and asked the crowd, “Raise your hand if you know someone who has been hurt by sexual assault.” Everyone in the crowd raised their hand.

   “The school swept under the rug an assault that literally happened in the room right next to mine,” said Eila McCulloch, addressing the crowd. She criticized the school’s unresponsiveness to sexual assault before telling the crowd that “as a woman in college, I have to carry a jackknife in my purse.”

   “Look Me In The Eyes!” the crowd shouted when McColluch finished.

   Darby Murnane echoed McCulloch’s sentiment by saying, “Watch what you say if you won’t say it while looking me in the eyes!” Murnane talked about having to learn self-defense in order to feel safe as a college student before criticizing the school’s assurance to prospective students and families that UMF “has a crime rate of almost zero.” Murnane concluded: ”I’d rather be at a school that reports statistics [about sexual assault] honestly than one that tries to hide them. You have the ears of some important people, what do you want to say?”

   “There should be counselors here who specialize in sexual assault issues,” said Tim DiNinno, who stepped up next. DiNinno went on to argue that the services should be independent of insurance as “having insurance could be an issue for some people. Also, I don’t think people want their parents to see the kind of treatment they’re getting,” DiNinno said.

   “Most people consider this a safe space,” Whitten said.  “I think it’s good that people are listening to what we have to say and that Eric Brown is here,” Whitten said after she ceded center stage to someone else. “It’s really important for people to know that we’re not just here because we’re angry, but because we love UMF and believe it can be better.”

   Another student stepped forward and argued that “no one should shame people for having sex. Never make them feel as if they’re wrong.”

   “I’m very grateful for the invitation to listen to this. I’ve paid attention to what everyone’s saying,” said President Brown. “A lot of the ideas being talked about here are consistent with what I want to do and I think it’s an important opportunity to have this conversation.”