The University of Michigan Diag is more crowded than usual lately—because student activism against sexual violence is coming to a head. Last month, a group of protestors formed a human chain on campus to express their opposition of the university’s interim policy regarding sexual assault, sexual misconduct and all Title IX cases on campus.
Under the new policy, which began in December 2018, all Title IX cases require peer-to-peer cross examinations. This means that survivors and perpetrators would face one another in court, rather than deal with cross-examinations through an attorney or advisor.
Many national organizations have objected to the policy since it was rolled out, including the ACLU. On campus, sophomore and Public Policy major Emma Sandberg has been leading the charge against the policy since she learned of it last year. Along with other activists, Sandberg helped orchestrated the human chain of over 50 people—complete with posters and chants such as “say it loud, say in clear, no perpetrator is our peer.”
“This is a policy that I consider to be cruel,” Sandberg told Ms. “No survivor should ever have to be cross-examined by their perpetrator. To require this, in a process that is already so taxing, is awful.”
Sandberg established Roe vs. Rape, which provides resources and support to sexual assault survivors at the University and surrounding areas, in July 2019, eight months after the policy was announced. The nonprofit not only works on changing policies that hurt survivors, but also organizes protests and demonstrations, like the human chain in the Diag.
“Administrators are equating [Title IX cases] to roommate conflicts,” Sandberg said, “rather than serious crimes that will have lifelong consequences on the victim.” By organizing demonstrations and protests on campus, Sandberg aims to make her voice heard to the administration and hopes that they listen to the concerns of many students at the University of Michigan.
Sandberg is also frustrated at the university’s lack of response to sexual assault on campus. “In addition to protesting the policy itself, we were also protesting administration’s feelings regarding sexual assault,” she explained. “They don’t seem to consider sexual assault a very serious crime.”
Indeed, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel was heard in a University fireside chat earlier in the year saying he supported the peer-to-peer cross examination policy. “We thought…it might be less traumatizing,” he claimed, “to have a peer ask questions of another peer.”
Sandberg hopes the policy will be overturned, and believes that, at the very least, attorneys should conduct cross examinations in Title IX cases on campus. If a student cannot afford an attorney, she believes that the University should cover the costs. She has several other ideas on how to improve the climate for survivors on campus, too. At the core of each is her belief that the first step comes from the administration listening to people who come forward.
“Our voices have been ignored for the past 11 months,” she declared. “It’s really important that our school understands how serious of an issue this is and treat it accordingly.”