Some female athletes at St. Francis Xavier University have come up with a remarkable response to sex-assault charges against two members of the varsity football team.
Soccer players have launched a solidarity campaign with sexual assault survivors, quelling a potential backlash that experts say can arise in the wake of damning allegations against popular male athletes on university campuses.
Sarah Bruce, a second-year student on the X-Women soccer team, launched the campaign called We Stand Together to channel her anger and spark social change on the Antigonish campus, she said.
“I wanted to show we can be unified and create this community of support,” said Bruce, who designed a logo with the university’s well-known X on top of a pink circle and the words “end sexual violence.”
Fellow teammate Emma Kuzmyk, a first-year student and goalkeeper on the soccer team, wrote a poem and created a harrowing video calling attention to sexual assaults on university campuses. The video has garnered thousands of views, while the campaign logo has been widely shared on social media and is now featured on stickers, pins and T-shirts.
As accounts of sexual assaults by powerful men surface around the world, the small-town university is facing its own reckoning with allegations of sexual violence. The solidarity campaign appears to have helped stamp out the once-ubiquitous victim-blaming tropes that emerge when accusations are levelled against powerful male students on universitycampuses. Lisa Pasolli, a women’s and gender studies instructor at St. F.X., said the solidarity movement is part of a broader watershed moment for women’s rights playing out across North America and beyond.
“These students understand what’s happening at St. F.X. is part of the much broader #MeToo movement,” she said. “They understand that St. F.X. isn’t immune from these larger conversations that we seem to be having as a society right now about sexual violence and permissiveness towards sexual violence and the structures of power that sustain sexual violence.
“They are linking the events unfolding on campus to this sort of broader societal reckoning with sexual violence and patriarchy.”
Late last month police charged two defensive backs on the X-Men varsity football team with sexual assault. RCMP said Jonah Williams, 19, was charged with three counts of sexual assault while Tyler Ball, 18, was charged with one count of sexual assault.
The allegations came after an 18-year-old woman reported an alleged assault on a weekend. Allegations involving another 19-year-old woman came to light during the police investigation.
The charges have not been tested in court. Both men have been released with conditions and are set to appear in provincial court in January, police said.
The university has banned one of the accused from campus, while another has been granted restricted access to attend classes. All other student privileges, including participating in varsity athletics, have been revoked.
Accusations of sexual assault on campuses — especially against athletes — are often met with attempts to discredit the women, a local expert said.
“Sexualized violence is embedded in our cultureand in the privilege of patriarchy. There is asense of entitlement to women’s bodies,” saidLucille Harper, executive director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services
Association. “These sorts of allegations have historically been met with slut-shaming and slut-blaming.”
Donations will raise money for additional sexual education training at the university, Bruce said, adding that the initiative now has widespread support from the university community, including the football team.
“They’ve been incredible. Almost right away they started posting the logo on their social media and ordering T-shirts,” she said of her fellow varsity athletes. “Ultimately at St. F.X. we’re a family and we take care of each other.”
Bruce said she never expected the campaign to take off so quickly or to garner so much attention, but she credits its success to the contributions of her teammates.
In addition to the We Stand Together campaign, a group of students and faculty on the university’s Social Justice Colloquium penned an open letter supporting survivors and calling for more resources and education.
The letter in the campus newspaper also criticizes the university for giving students inadequate information too long after news of the alleged sexual assaults became common knowledge, and failing to inform students about the resources available to them.
The letter includes a list of suggestions, including a new policy that would require the university to inform students of resources within 24 hours of an incident being reported.
Students on the Women’s and Gender Studies Society also issued a statement of solidarity in the campus paper, acknowledging the trauma for survivors of sexualized violence. The statement also takes aim at the university, noting a “lacklustre stance and support” by the administration.