Guest opinion: Why I interrupted Sally Mason

By Chelsea Bacon

In my backpack were several posters and two rings of duct tape: one black, one yellow. School Pride, you know? Outrage boiled over in the past few days, coming to a head over University of Iowa President Sally Mason’s ineffectual, inaccurate statements about rape. When asked by the Daily Iowan about the increase in reported sexual assaults this academic year, she said, “The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature …”

Several students, alumni and members of the community swiftly organized a protest to take place at the then-upcoming “31st-annual Presidential Lecture” at the Levitt Center, knowing that the opportunity to have the press and administration present was a small window. We strategically decided on a silent protest in order to show solidarity for victims and survivors of sexual assault, who are too often silenced in our culture of rape. We laid out a “list of demands” that included policy measures and attitude shifts that we saw the University profoundly lacking, and we brought duct tape.

On Sunday, we gathered shortly before the start of the lecture with Iowa regalia and poignant, brazen signs that had slogans reading “zero tolerance for drugs but not rape?!” and “this University protects rapists, not victims,” and one that played on the problematic and controversial partnership between Anheuser-Busch and the University: “Rape Culture: Responsibility Matters.” Our fingers were numb but our blood was pumping.

Soon after an Iowa City Jazz Trio performance, President Mason approached the podium, giving us an opportunity to swarm the front of the stage and block her from view. She began a prepared statement that we quickly realized was meant to co-opt our message and use it without our consent. Never once were any organizers contacted by the administration, but they had a police officer ready to escort and threaten with arrest the “young women” out of the lecture.

None of us had prepared statements, but I heard the cloying voice of Mason tell me that she was asserting power over us, our message would not be broadcast. I ripped the yellow duct tape off my mouth and drowned out her voice with mine. “[Sally Mason] does not stand with victims!” She quickly retorted that she stood 100 percent with victims, but the horse was out of the gate. Soon, other organizers spoke out over the president and over their fear. “Sally Mason is part of the problem.” “This University is part of the problem.” “Rape is not in human nature.”

This university has a zero tolerance policy toward possession of illegal substances and plagiarism, but not toward sexual assault. I stumbled to get this point exclaimed, and was met with a blatant lie by President Mason “yes we do.” “No we DON’T,” I reasserted. We don’t.

The plain-clothes officer began to escort us out, stating, barely audibly, that we would be arrested if we continued to “disrupt a meeting.” We calmly walked out and were met with applause, and a elderly woman with tight curls giving us “thumbs up” and bravely shouting “I stand with you.”

The Sunday protest organizers are not mutually exclusive of the work University students have begun with the campaign and petition through Our efforts are comprised of students, faculty, staff and community members who have a common goal to hold the University responsible for its inaction and eliminate rape culture in our University and community. We stand with victims and survivors in this community and abroad, who are too often spoken over by the people in power. President Mason and her administration are going to need a lot more than duct tape to keep us quiet.

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