UFM Protest

Students protesting on the steps of Burruss Hall, Sept. 28 2021

On Nov. 4, 2021, President Tim Sands announced the formation of the Sexual Violence Culture and Climate Work Group in response to a series of sexual assaults on campus since the university’s return to in-person classes.

The group was criticized publicly by the United Feminist Movement organization at Virginia Tech. According to the Roanoke Times, three days after the work group was announced, UFM held a silent protest of the group at the Nov. 7, 2021 Board of Visitors meeting.

Last year, in a letter to the Board of Visitors, UFM wrote, “Yesterday, President Sands announced a Sexual Violence Culture and Climate work group. This twenty-one person committee is focused on preventing gender based violence directed at undergraduate students. Despite this focus, only two students were appointed to the committee. The composition of the group lacks representation and reflects poorly on the University’s response to community outrage.”

Caroline Lohr, Undergraduate Student Senate President, and her colleague, Paolo Fermin, Undergraduate Student Representative to the Board of Visitors, were the only student group members at the time of the group’s creation.

One year later, Lohr remarked on the headway made by the SVCC’s Subcommittee on Community Engagement. Lohr is a co-facilitator of the subcommittee.

“Right now, our main focus within my subcommittee is working on getting students involved in educating people, about, sexual violence, and kind of the stuff that leads up to it, taking more of a preventative approach,” Lohr said.

Lohr further elaborated on the research her subcommittee conducted to produce the SAFE at VT website.

“This was a project that we were working on towards the end of the last semester and really hitting the ground running over the summer,” Lohr said. “We talked to students in our subcommittee, we talked to students through the Women’s Resource Center to come up with, ‘What are questions that survivors have after an incident,’ and ‘How can we best explain the processes of going through Title IX versus going through the police without having to set up a meeting and putting someone in a more vulnerable place than just being able to look it up.’”

According to Lohr, statistics on the work group’s progress have yet to be published and evaluated. However, Lohr anticipates Virginia Tech will start collecting information on student attitudes toward the steps the work group has taken to combat sexual violence. She also believes the role of her subcommittee has shifted over time.

“At the very beginning, it was just, ‘What students are involved in learning more about this,’ right, and so we had started sending out student forms for different students to sit on other subcommittees including ours,” Lohr said. “(Now) our actual subcommittee has grown, I think at the beginning we had fifteen and now we have over fifty students, and it’s open to any student.”

Christine Dennis Smith, co-director of the Women’s Center and co-facilitator of the work group’s Subcommittee on Developing a Framework for a Sustainable Climate and Cultural Transformation, commented on the intention of the group.

“I think the idea behind the SVCC is to work towards cultural transformation, and so there are multiple ways that the university is looking at addressing sexual violence, and culture change is a huge thing,” Dennis Smith said. “But in order for there to be cultural transformation, you have to have it all across the university, and so I think the point of the group is to create groups across the university, so to include faculty and staff, to include students, to include more connection with our academic departments. So really, in order for there to be cultural transformation, it has to be the whole entire community.” Dennis Smith said.

According to Dennis Smith, the focus of the work group will shift from mostly first-year and on-campus students to include off-campus and graduate students, as well as students who are members of marginalized groups.

For students who wish to get involved in tackling sexual violence at Virginia Tech, Dennis Smith recommends participating in Sexual Assault and Violence Education by Students through the Women’s Center, working with the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley as well as aiding the United Feminist Movement with the Clothesline Project and their annual Take Back the Night Rally.

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