Boston University Students Protest Against Sexual Harassment

Last night, The Boston University Graduate Worker’s Union held a rally designed to speak out against sexual assault and harassment within the system of higher education. This event comes just days after the revelation that a Boston University Professor in the Earth & Environment department, David Marchant, has been accused of sexual harassment by at least three graduate students he was teaching on an Antarctic field mission in the late 1990s.

The rally did not occur solely because of the allegations leveled against Marchant — though it was partially inspired by them, as Marchant is still employed by Boston University, despite undergoing an investigation for the past ten months. Rather, the Graduate Workers’ Union, coupled with several undergraduate student groups, felt that this problem was something that needed to be addressed on a larger scale.

Jessica Lambert, one of the event’s organizers and a Ph.D. student in anthropology, said that the rally was important because it “told BU that sexual harassment and misconduct are systemic problems in higher education — problems that are bigger than one individual case.” Working together with other organizers, Lambert stated that part of the problem came down to the simple act of reporting.

“Reporting is designed to benefit the university,” Lambert exclaimed to the crowd of around 150 people. Though Lambert went on to say that BU and its SARP programs do great work when it comes to sexual assault and prevention, she also acknowledged there is always room for improvement.

“A fifteen-minute presentation [about Title IX] at the beginning of a graduate student’s career is not enough,” Lambert stated, referencing BU’s preventive strike against sexual harassment within the graduate student’s learning and workplace. Though Title IX aims to protect students regardless of gender, it falls short in preparing students for what will happen if they do experience that.

And chances are, students will experience sexual harassment or misconduct at some point during their college career. According to one of the speakers, Lizzy Karnaukh, and the PLOS ONE Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journal, 71% of female graduate students were sexually harassed during fieldwork. Sexual harassment does not just affect women, though— all genders suffer from sexual misconduct, with men and non-binary people being even less likely to report.

Sexual harassment in higher education does not just affect graduate students in fieldwork. Undergraduate organizer and speaker, Hannah Kinney-Kobre elaborated that even “one individual case affects the entire university.” Fear of sexual harassment widens the gap between professors and students, and creates a culture of “distrust” and “fear,” according to Kinney-Kobre.

“Real learning cannot occur without trust,” Kinney-Kobre went on to say, noting that students should be able to find comfort within their mentors without fear of harassment or abuse. A toxic power dynamic has no place in the classroom. 

The rally’s attendees were equally as passionate about finding an end to sexual harassment and abuse within higher education. One of the attendees, an undergraduate named Caroline Brantley, believed that such reform stemmed from a dedication to education.

“I think there needs to be more transparency from elementary school on in making sure people know [sexual harassment] is not okay,” Brantley stated, believing that implementing stronger educational programs about what constitutes harassment would have a great impact in later life.

Though the rally was partially in response to a BU professor’s sexual misconduct, it strove to address that sexual abuse in higher education is not just a BU problem — it is a widespread, systemic issue. Implementing clearer instructions for reporting sexual harassment and ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice through stricter university laws is the way to eliminate sexual harassment in universities.

“I have had the privilege of not being hurt in these ways, and I go to rallies because I need to give a voice for those who can’t,” Brantley said. And that’s what we all need to do. We need to give our voices for those who can’t speak.

Please contact SARP if you have experienced sexual assault or harassment at BU. You are not alone.