Young Conservatives of Texas demonstration changes campus conversation on sexual assault

Libby Cohen

The Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) pro-Kavanaugh demonstration on Tuesday, Oct. 2 gave victims of sexual assault, such as journalism senior Sarah Remelius, motivation to voice their own experiences.

“I wanted to let them know that what they were doing was causing people like myself, who have been sexually assaulted, to relive,” Remelius said.

Remelius was sexually assaulted in spring 2018, and did not consider herself an advocate for survivors before the protest. A table with five students holding signs encouraging students to “change (their) mind” created an emotional environment which motivated a change in conversation from the justice appointment to the rhetoric of sexual assault on campus.

“It was never something that I had said out loud, that I had been sexually assaulted,” Remelius said.

She compared her sexual assault to that of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser, because of limited witnesses and evidence. After opening up in the middle of the crowd, Remelius’s remarks were lost in the chaotic banter from both sides.

“There were so many women and men that walked away crying, and (UT) didn’t do anything for them,” Remelius said.

The email following the demonstration, Remelius said, felt like rhetoric with no action. Dr. Leonard N. Moore, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement, addressed the day’s events in regard to sexual assault victims on campus in the email.

“As a university that has taken great strides to address issues of sexual assault, we realize that more work needs to be done and we want all students to be supported regardless of background or experience,” Moore wrote.

Other students, such as chemical engineering senior Hassan Ahmad thought the University’s statement sounded diplomatic.

“We will do something on our own to make sure survivors feel safe and feel validated,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad stood on the opposite side of the YCT protest and thought about his ex-girlfriend, friends, and peers who were also sexual assault victims.

“I want to make sure these survivors feel like there is a community here on campus who are standing here hand-in-hand,” Ahmad said.

With little support from UT and Student Government, Ahmad said he wants to create a support group to remind them there is a community supporting survivors like Remelius. Ahmad posted a photo of the protest on Facebook.

“To the survivors who saw this today, to the survivors who felt vulnerable, to the survivors who choose to stay silent because of events like these, to you, #Ibelieveyou,” Ahmad wrote.

The post received 923 likes and 202 shares.

While YCT chairman Saurabh Sharma said, “The vast majority of YCT believes sexual assault is a heinous crime,” this should not limit conversation from continuing on campus.

“It is a part of our public discourse and as this is a public university,” Sharma said. “Protests happen here.”

Although Remelius agrees UT should address the issue of high sexual assault rates, she insists the University should take measures to provide a safe space for survivors.

“It’s important for people to share their stories especially because I know there are so many people who wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that, since there is such a large population of students on campus who have been sexually assaulted,” Remelius said.