Why Harvard Should #JustSaySorry For How It Handled My Sexual Assault
By Kamilah Willingham
Yesterday, I watched my friend and colleague Wagatwe Wanjuki burn a sweatshirt from Tufts University, demanding that her alma mater apologize for mishandling her report of sexual assault when she was a student there.
It made me wish I’d kept more things from Harvard Law School just so I could burn them now.
While she burned her once-beloved sweatshirt, Wagatwe talked about feeling invalidated and ignored by a school she was once so proud of. This resonated pretty hard with me, as I’m sure it does with other survivors of campus sexual assault whose trauma has been compounded by institutional betrayal. I know that we’re not alone in this — and I know that we’re not alone in being outraged and baffled that more schools have not simply acknowledged and apologized to survivors.
Wagatwe and I met at the 2016 Oscars (NBD!) while rehearsing to go onstage with Lady Gaga during her powerful performance of ’Til it Happens to You.’ As two Black women who are prominent survivor-activists in the still very white space of campus sexual assault activism, we found that we had a lot in common. Our work and activism has brought us together many times since.
This includes earlier in the summer when we were both at UVA facilitating a three-day training for administrators from several schools in the region. While we were debriefing after the last day of training together, Wagatwe mentioned how dehumanizing it’s been for Tufts to refuse to even acknowledge her after what they put her through.
Her words resonated with me then as they do now.
We talked about how our schools’ respective silences in the wake of their blatant errors reek of cowardice and hypocrisy — how could they possibly promote honor codes and academic integrity when they hold themselves to such low standards of accountability? We also talked about how our ongoing sense of abandonment and betrayal by our schools has been a significant factor in how we’ve been able to heal.
That’s when we came up with the idea for the #JustSaySorry campaign, which seeks to highlight the inadequacy of schools’ silence and to demand apologies for their widely recognized and almost…