Nearly 100 people marched silently on the main quad Wednesday night in a consciousness-raising display of solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. The vigil came in the wake of a threat by the UChicago Electronic Army (UEA) to take action against the Class of 2018 if they didn’t remember “who’s boss around here.” The UEA hacked into the student fashion magazine MODA’s website Wednesday morning and posted the threat on its homepage in reaction to the publication of a list of students who were accused of sexual harassment or violence.
No police were present as protesters marched from Hull Gate to Alpha Delta Phi’s weekly Bar Night, where they lit candles and stood silently across the street from the fraternity.
Although before it had been stated that Bar Night was the march’s final destination, once the group arrived there, Christina Pillsbury, A.B. ’14, announced it would continue onto Bartlett quad, where there was an O-Week movie night screening of Bridesmaids in progress.
Once they reached the movie screening, protesters stood with their candles and a banner that read, “Threats won’t Break our Strength,” with the hashtag #keepUCHIsafe beneath. The group left once the movie ended five minutes later.
Following the march, there was an hour-long speak-out at Hull Gate in which survivors and allies shared their experiences of and thoughts about sexual violence. Following the speak-out, the organizers encouraged participants to “check in with one another, to see how you’re doing.” Around a dozen students who were originally watching the movie came over to the speak-out.
Pillsbury and fourth-year Kirsten Gindler organized the march in response to threats against the Class of 2018 and an accusation against one student of authoring the Hyde Park List made by the UEA in their message on the MODA homepage. The message has since been taken down.
The Hyde Park List contained the names of six current undergraduates who were accused of committing “gender-based crimes,” along with their graduation year and a color-coded alert level based on the severity of the offense committed. The Tumblr page that housed the list has since been edited and the names have been removed.
RedEye Chicago quoted Andrew Miltenberg, a New York–based attorney, as saying that a lawsuit for defamation against the creator of the list may be possible, but not likely. “[The list] could have a negative impact from a potential employer, a negative impact socially. So I think there's an argument to be made that it is still defamatory and the writer would be liable for it," Miltenberg said to RedEye. "But it is a gray area." The UCPD is investigating the hacking of the MODA website, listing the offense as “unlawful, unauthorized use of a website” in its incident reports, but it is unclear what, if any, legal action can be taken against the people behind the hack.
In an e-mail sent out on Friday afternoon, Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen explained recent changes in the University’s policy on sexual assault, including a single school-wide sexual assault disciplinary process, and the appointment of a new dean, Jeremy Inabinet, who will specialize in sexual assault cases. Many of the changes Rasmussen describes came in response to an ongoing federal investigation of the University for, along with dozens of other colleges, violation of Title IX for mishandling of sexual assault.
Perhaps coincidentally, the University administration sent an e-mail last Thursday to students reaffirming their commitment to academic free expression. In an e-mail to faculty, students, and staff the morning following the protest, President Robert Zimmer wrote, “On campuses across the nation, we have seen this value [of free expression] challenged in a variety of ways over many years. These problems highlight that free expression is ingrained deeply in the culture of the University of Chicago, but also that we must reassert this value and foster a culture that supports it.” The e-mail later announced the appointment of a faculty committee, chaired by Geoff Stone, to draft a statement about UChicago’s commitment to free expression.
Another protest is being planned for an unspecified location on campus this Friday.
Editors’ Note: Christina Pillsbury is a former Chicago Maroon news editor.
--Additional reporting by Ankit Jain