Even as rain began to pour, dozens of people linked their arms together and chanted “We believe survivors” and “Survivors united will never be divided” Tuesday afternoon on Speedway.
During the Stand with Survivors rally, organizers and attendees provided support and resources for sexual assault survivors and emphasized ways to engage in self-care. In between participating in chants, speakers also shared stories of their sexual assaults and gave advice for organizing as a community.
After the Young Conservatives of Texas demonstrated in support of the confirmation of then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh last week, Sarah Kerr, an international relations and global studies sophomore, said she wanted to create an event to support the UT community of sexual assault survivors. Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice on Saturday.
“I thought if we didn’t respond … people are just going to think that the harm that was caused this week is just going to go unhealed,” rally co-organizer Kerr said. “We wanted to respond and show that we’re going to fight back (and) that survivors on campus deserve to feel safe.”
Rally co-organizer Angel Bierce helped attendees form human blockades on both sides of Speedway, forcing students on the street to walk around the protesters. Bierce said they wanted the inconvenience of the blockades to mirror the inconvenience of sexual assault.
“UT needs to see that people on this campus feel silenced,” said Kaci Pelias, a theater and dance junior. “Everyone on campus needs to feel safe, especially survivors. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
According to the UT System’s 2017 Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments report, 15 percent of female undergraduates at UT-Austin have been sexually assaulted since enrollment. English freshman Luisana Cortez said she was concerned about these incidents on campus.
“There are a lot of problems on this campus having to do with blaming the victim and sexual assault,” Cortez said. “We need to pay attention to it and talk about it.”
Mathematics freshman Gabriela Garcia said she is a sexual assault survivor, but came to counter-protest because she disagrees with some of the protesters advocating for violence against rapists.
“I’ve been sexually assaulted before (but) I think the way they’re going about this issue is wrong,” Garcia said. “It is without compassion for everybody. There are some good parts but a lot of it is bad.”
Dolores Huerta, a labor leader and civil rights activist who came to the rally, said protesters should make sure to turn their outrage into votes during the midterms.
“We are victims of a lot of violence as women and people of color … (but) we have something more powerful than a gun,” Huerta said. “And that is our vote. But the thing is that if we do not use that vote, we are saying to those who attack us … ‘Okay do it again.’”
Bierce said she hopes the rally sends the message to survivors that the UT student community stands with them, believes them and fights for them.
“If we helped to heal one person from this rally, it would be a success in our minds,” psychology sophomore Bierce said. “We want to gain the support of the community and just let survivors know that we are a majority on campus.”