Op-Ed: Believe and Support Survivors

This past weekend, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) painted the cannon with the Palestinian flag as part of their Great March of Return vigil “to mark the one year anniversary of The Great March of Return in Gaza, and honor the martyrs who have been killed.” On the morning of April 1, SJP members discovered that someone had painted “Trump 2020” on the cannon, partially covering what SJP had painted two days before. I saw the anger of others who felt that this was not an appropriate April Fool’s Day joke, and I felt that it required a rapid response. By 11:30 a.m., my fellow activists and I had fully painted over the pro-Trump messaging and replaced it with the familiar protest chant, “No Trump, No KKK, No Racist USA.” Passersby took issue with how we broke tradition by painting the cannon during the day, but my fellow activists and I felt that it was necessary to take timely action rather than waiting until nighttime to paint over the message. As tour groups and other students passed by the cannon, we explained that we were painting over “Trump 2020” because we felt that it did not reflect the values of the Tufts community.

That same night, Tufts Green Dot Ambassadors painted the cannon to raise awareness for Green Out Day, urging students to wear green on Wednesday, April 3 to show support for survivors of sexual assault. We painted various messages such as “Wear Green 4/3,” “Believe Survivors,” and “Support Survivors.” Later that night, after Green Dot had painted the cannon, someone once again painted pro-Trump slogans on the cannon, specifically painting “#MAGA” over the words “Believe Survivors” and “Support Survivors.” We responded once more by painting over their messaging the next morning with the Green Dot message.

By painting only words over the Green Dot message rather than fully erasing it with paint, they placed their message in such a manner that clearly showed opposition to the message of survivor support. Defacing the message of “believe and support survivors” with the campaign slogan of a president who has admitted to sexual assault on tape is a slap in the face to survivors of sexual assault. Worse, this was done during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a crucial time to show support for survivors. This is unacceptable, at Tufts or anywhere else.

Tufts was found to be in violation of Title IX in 2014. Since then, I’d like to think we’ve made significant progress in changing the culture. But this week’s cannon paintings have shown that there is still so much more to do. Despite the changes that have been made over the years, sexual assault still happens here.

Many of our fellow students are survivors or know someone who is. When you make a rape joke or dismiss the gravity of this situation, remember that a survivor may be listening to you mocking and dismissing their pain. The trauma of being raped does not exist to serve as a punchline, and should not be treated as so insignificant that it can be laughed about.

In response to this act of intimidation against survivors, I urge you to believe and support the survivors around you. Condemnations of the pro-Trump cannon paintings and statements of survivor support are empty and meaningless unless backed up by belief in and support for survivors.

We must all take action to change the culture. That means actively supporting survivors beyond merely telling them that you’re there for them. That means speaking up about behaviors that perpetuate problematic attitudes towards sexual violence. That means actively working to make your communities safe and welcoming for everyone, especially survivors.

This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month began with a blatant act of intimidation against survivors. There are still 26 days left in April, though, and each day is a chance to right this wrong. I am heartened to see so many of my peers wearing green this Wednesday, April 3 in support of survivors and Green Dot’s mission. In believing and supporting survivors in our communities and daily lives as well as supporting the missions of organizations like Action for Sexual Assault Prevention and Green Dot, we can help change the culture so that this never happens again.