SU students speak out and walk out against Brett Kavanaugh confirmation and frat culture

SU students protest Kavanaugh confirmation and share sexual assault stories

Protestors gathered at Hendricks to share stories of sexual violence and call for action against Kavanaugh’s confirmation and frat culture at SU
Published: October 4, 2018 | Updated: October 5th, 2018 at 10:30 pm
SU Walkout Kavanaugh
SU Students walk out of class to stand in solidarity with the alleged sexual assault victims of Kavanaugh.

Thunderous clouds gathered over Hendricks Chapel, but the loudest storm came from over 150 protesters gathered at the bottom of the stairs to demand a cultural change at Syracuse University and across the nation. 

The protest was branded on Facebook as a protest to call for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be withdrawn from nomination. Speakers also called for a change to campus culture and attitude toward sexual assault, as well as the university’s response to those issues. One protester criticized Chancellor Kent Syverud for his recent email to the entire student body about his dog Grace, while another described him as “a businessman who stood on a lot of necks to get where he is.” 

The walkout was organized by the International Socialist Organization, Students Advancing Sexual Safety and Empowerment and the College Democrats. ISO member and SUNY-ESF student Clark Bermudez was the organization’s main representative at the walkout and opened the rally with a call to educate students on the dangers of toxic masculinity. 

“There’s a new Brett Kavanaugh sitting on this campus right now, expecting to get everything he could ever want in life handed to him,” Bermudez said. “And this university is complicit in the creation of these individuals.” 

Students weren’t the only ones addressing the crowd. Physics Department professor Walter Friedman spoke to the gathered protestors about the impact their actions today would have on the future. Friedman said he actively encouraged his astronomy students to attend the walkout. 

Communications and Rhetorical Studies professor Dana Cloud took an active role in the protests. Cloud led chants throughout the crowd, beginning with a shout of “When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do?” 

“Stand up fight back!” was the audience’s reply. 

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Survivors of sexual assault took to the Hendricks’ stairs to share their stories. For some, the pressure of reliving their traumas in front of the crowd was a challenge, but the crowd reacted with cries of support and hugs for the survivors.

Other protestors took up the megaphone to call for student action. Gabby Zingarini, a freshman in the School of Arts and Sciences, called for students to register to vote in their home states as opposed to in New York with the university. Zingarini listed off Republican senators whose seats were open for election.

“If you watched the hearing, you saw men who were too scared to question a true patriot, Christine Blasey Ford,” Zingarini told the protesters. “Jeff Flake’s seat is up! Orrin Hatch’s seat is up!”

In an interview with The NewsHouse, Zingarini was asked if the university could do more to help students know the impact of their vote ahead of midterms.

“To be honest, I don’t know if they do anything,” said Zingarini. “I think encouraging students to vote on campus is misleading. I think the university should let people know what it means, give them a lowdown on whether they should vote here or at home.”

Zingarini pointed out that a rise in student activism, such as today’s walkout, was reflected in the primaries which saw a surge in young voters.

“A lot of people thought [in 2016] Hillary had it in the bag,” said Zingarini. “And then 2016 served as a really horrible wake-up call.”

Several speakers also called on men at Syracuse University to do their part to support survivors of sexual assault and to change the culture of aggressive masculinity. A common theme was addressing straight, cisgender white men, such as Joey Lino, who made a speech on the Hendricks steps.

“I did not want to take time away from the incredible people up here telling their stories,” Lino said. “But as men, we really do have to acknowledge our role and responsibility in defending rape culture.”

Forrest Teske, a core organizer for the Syracuse branch of Democratic Socialists of America, also spoke on what men could do to change rape culture. Teske outlined reforming the workplace as a key area in his speech.

“You’re all going to be workers someday,” said Teske. “You’re going to be in offices, and kitchens and worksites. Men? You change that culture in your workplace today. Now.”

Teske told The NewsHouse that men can enact cultural changes in working institutions and make sure women are heard in the workplace.

“If you’re part of a union, make sure your union is a safer place for women and trans people,” Teske said. “If you’re part of a work environment in general, when you hear someone addressing a woman or trans person, you make sure the words aren’t derogatory. That applies specifically to white cis men, who are able to speak out for people of color and different religions and ethnicities.”

At the end of the rally, Bermudez took the megaphone once again to lead a chant of “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!”

The three organizations will meet tomorrow, Oct. 5 at 8 a.m. to walk to the city’s Planned Parenthood clinic to counter-protest an anti-abortion group in the city.

SU Kavanaugh Walkout
SU students listen to other members of the student body comment on the implications of Kavanaugh's pending confirmation.
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is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.