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Last week’s walkout at the University of Vermont should send three clear messages: Rape culture won’t be tolerated; individuals who commit sex assaults need to be held accountable; and institutions need to do everything they can to keep such atrocities from happening — at any cost.

Thousands of students on Monday afternoon walked to the administration building, where they blocked traffic on South Prospect Street. In a stunning display of solidarity, students listened to multiple accounts of rape and examples of what they said demonstrated myriad ways that UVM did not protect them or their rights. They held clenched fists above their heads — a crowd of resilience in protest.

We stand with these students. They are young people from every town in Vermont; we know these individuals. They are our neighbors; they are the kids we have watched grow up.

They are our kids.

Monday’s march is considered one of the largest protests the school has seen in years. This is not just another piece of the #metoo movement that needed to happen. This is a poignant example of injustice — another violent elbow thrown into the face of far too many victims.

For all of the times we use this space to condemn social media for its toxicity, this time it provided the platform that must prove to be a tipping point.

An Instagram post by junior Athena Hendrick, who revealed their rape in February 2020 by a fellow student, started the vocal outrage. Hendrick indicated they received little support from the university.

A mountain of supportive students came to their defense, creating widespread outrage and concern. Also, the post ignited ShareYourStoryUVM, which became a place on social media where students could anonymously share stories of sexual violence. Those posts (and comments) are heartbreaking and tragic.

“(T)hank you so much for sharing your experience and how harmful these narratives about women/female-identifying folks can be, especially when we’re younger. Thank you also for sharing that it does get better and happy, healthy, sexually fulfilling relationships are possible for survivors. much love,” one person posted.

“Healing is a journey not an endpoint,” another student wrote.

This is only the latest outrage.

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In October 2020, two students working for the student newspaper, wrote an investigative article that proved to be an indictment of what was called a “gross mishandling” of a student’s sexual assault investigation. Hayley Rosen and Emma Pinezich wrote the expose about the sex assault investigation of a female student-athlete, and the uprising that ensued, including students calling for systemic change and for school officials to step down.

Specifically, the article pointed out that the victim and other female athletes from other universities are suing the NCAA for failing to protect them from sexual assault — including from other athletes, whose accusations were downplayed or delayed. Gate receipts and winning appeared to be taking precedence over justice, students and critics said.

Those claims were made even louder last week.

Pleas are being made to investigate and charge students — including student athletes — who are accused of sex assault.

Last year, students provided a list of demands to UVM administrators explaining how the institution could reform its Title IX system to better support survivors of sex assaults. Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational institutions and applies to complaints and investigations of sexual misconduct. At the time, the university agreed to all of those demands.

But, students say, the rape culture is pervasive, and they maintain the school’s attitude is not serious enough and needs immediate attention. Hence, 2,000 students massing before the administration last week.

As one poster on social media noted, “How about UVM tosses the rapists out instead of worrying about whether or not they can play (sports)? These guys should be thrown in prison and called criminals, not coddled and made out to be special because they happen to be good at some stupid sport that does nothing to help society. Rapists are rapists. … As far as I’m concerned that makes them worse because they get public recognition.”

No team — and certainly no individual — is more important than the safety and well-being of the rest of the student population.

These are our kids, friends. They must be protected.

— Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, May 5