by Brynn McDonnell, Co-Chair of the ACLU of Central Michigan University and a member of Students Advocating Gender Equality.
Last semester, a campus-wide email was sent out by the Central Michigan University police chief about an incident that occurred in the residence halls on campus. The message described the incident as a subject entering an unlocked residence hall room and explained that said subject “committed sexual assault and other simple assaults.”
The message went on to describe the charges, and then clarified that “the victim did not sustain injury as a result.”
It was titled “Residents hall students reminded to lock doors.”
The whole message, in other words, from start to finish, was a mess.
When I read this message I was immediately disturbed not by the heinous acts of the assailant, but the wording that was chosen by the police department to send the message of campus safety. I felt appalled that a dignified organization would generate such an ignorant response with little sensitivity. I, as many feminists, know the long term effects of sexual assault on a survivor, and I was astounded that the police department did not recognize these effects. To call sexual assault “simple assault” and to insinuate that no harm was done seemed preposterous, absurd – and offensive.
In my anger, I wrote a column to be published by the school newspaper, dismantling the email and questioning the competence of the Central Michigan University police. However, I first decided to invite Chief Yiegley to a dialogue about the issue – and when he responded positively, I withdrew my attack.
When I met with Yiegley, he had already been in contact with our student body president (a radical feminist like myself). He sincerely apologized to me for the actions that were taken and we explored options as to how we can address the importance of stressing student safety in a sensitive manner. Currently, I am working with other organizations to collaborate and work with the police department to provide up-to-date sensitivity training so that the police force may be encouraged to put the training to action. The future is looking positive. I am currently enrolled in a course that trains students in the art of dialogue facilitation and I have since adopted a solution-based dialogue set where instead of placing blame on an issue, I work to generate a solution when a negative situation occurs.
The results of my actions and the actions of my feminist allies are still in formation. I first have to generate dialogue between several different offices and the police department and develop the relationships. Going forward, I hope that my actions will have created a discussion and set of solutions on campus in regards to sexual violence and communication. As of now, I know that I have at least opened up doorways to communication, and made an impression about the importance of language and sensitivity to the campus police.
Other folks can support the ongoing challenge of creating productive conversations and encouraging appropriate dialogue by lobbying their student officials when they see a wrong-doing. Those officials are there for the students. What I learned from taking the time to make noise about an email is that it lead to a positive change that could have long-lasting effects with respects to CMU policy and law enforcement. What I learned is that everyday actions also need to occur in this movement.
When someone sees a social injustice, no matter how small or big, one must act. Any action for the cause of social justice is a valid one. It’s inaction and apathy that negates social change, and no cause is too insignificant to take up with passion.