In recent years, movements to address sexual assault on college campuses have gained attention and achievements across the United States. Activists Wagatwe Wanjuki and Kamilah Willingham are adding their voices to the conversation with their #JustSaySorry campaign, highlighting the importance of colleges acknowledging their failures in addressing sexual violence on campus. In an interview, Wanjuki shared the goals and guiding principles of the campaign.
Creating the #JustSaySorryCampaign
In early August, Wanjuki took to social media and burned clothing from Tufts University, imploring the institution to “Just Say Sorry” for the way they mishandled her sexual assault case. Wanjuki and fellow activist Willingham are the founders of Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture and aim to draw attention to the inadequacy of college administrations’ responses to sexual assault.
Wanjuki discussed her decision to burn her Tufts sweatshirt on Facebook Live.
“In the first video, I talk about my changing relationship to the sweatshirt. I realized that I did not want to keep any representations of an institution that does not take sexual violence seriously, and refuses to acknowledge the wrongs that they’ve committed in the past.”
“Both Tufts and Harvard Law School (Willingham’s university) have been found to be in violation of Title IX, which means that the government has found them to have had improper responses to sexual assault. We have both experienced those failures. These colleges have never come forth to say they’re sorry, they’ve never really acknowledged their wrongdoing.
That’s why we have this campaign. We really believe that colleges should come from a place of doing the right thing, as opposed to just trying to follow the letter of the law to avoid getting negative publicity.”
How does Sexual Assault Particularly Impact Black Women and Women of Color?
“We know that black women in particular, and women of color overall are sexually victimized more often than any other race. Unfortunately, while we are subjected to this violence more often, we are the ones who report the least and we are the ones who are the least visible when it comes to acknowledging the wrongs done to us.
So one of the biggest reasons Kamilah and I started Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture was that we wanted to go back to the roots of anti-rape organizing in the United States, which was started by black women. We know that survivors of color have unique needs and unique challenges, particularly at a predominantly white institution.
We want to use our platform to show that there are people who are taking these identities into account. For a very long time the coverage of the campus anti-rape movement has been lacking intersectionality.”
The Power of Survivor-Activists
Sexual assault survivors do have options in the face of an unresponsive administrations. Wanjuki notes that many resources are available to survivors, from organizations like Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture, to Know Your IX, an organization that educates students on their right to an education free of sexual violence.
“Students have a lot of power as activists to use pressure externally, using the media and other organizations and students across college campuses. Internally, students can do campaigns, organize, get legal assistance, which I think can be powerful and impactful. Students have a unique position to urge their schools to do better and help create a safe community and safer environment.”
How can We Help Survivors?
“Believe survivors, speak up for them, help them and support them in having autonomy over their lives. One of the reasons we launched the #JustSaySorry Campaign, is that we believe that communities need to work together to create safer environments and take a stand against sexual violence. An institution that apologizes recognizes the harm done to survivors and also says explicitly that rape is against our school’s values. This helps heal survivors individually and also helps heal the community.
Being anti-rape needs to be a part of our everyday lives. Different myths and norms all perpetuate a society where people are sexually victimized at high rates. I think a lot of it is listening and highlighting the needs of the most marginalized of survivors—women of color, LGBQ folks, gender non-conforming folks. We need to really have an inclusive movement; it’s not just a women’s movement, it’s not just about survivors. Everyone needs to work together to create a safer world and that is how we will make real significant change.”
What Has Been Most Meaningful to You in your Work as an Activist?
“Most meaningful to me has been making sure survivors feel that they’ve seen and heard, and that is really lacking when it comes to college administrations. They love to celebrate and talk about how they’ve made all this progress when in regards to sexual violence. However, they don’t want to admit that it took failing survivors, it took multiple lives being changed forever for them to get to that point.
I’m so happy and honored to be able to a megaphone of sorts to a lot of survivors who have been thinking and feeling these things for a long time. I really love telling and showing survivors that they’re are not alone. There really is power in numbers and knowing that other people support and believe you.”
Photo Credits: Wagatwe Wanjuki