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Friday, December 04, 2020

UF law students have formed a new group called We Believe Survivors. It was created in response to the Levin College of Law’s invitation to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to teach a course on the religious clauses of the First Amendment in Spring 2020. 

We Believe Survivors agrees with UF President Kent Fuchs’s recent statements in light of reports that reports of sexual assault on UF’s campus have increased. Fuchs said: “In order for UF to be truly great, it must lead in eliminating sexual assault.” The student group is also glad that the Dean of Levin, Laura Rosenbury, retweeted Fuch’s statement adding, “#UFLaw faculty, students, and staff are ready to help!” 

We Believe Survivors argues that sexual assault begins with culture tolerating harrassment, unequal treatment, misogyny and violence. While people of all genders can be victims, women are disproportionately affected. According to an Alligator report on a recent Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct study, UF undergraduate female reports of nonconsensual sexual conduct increased from 23 to 26 percent and men from 5 to 7 percent since 2015. The harassment and abuse experienced by women is often more acutely felt by women of color. 

Anita Hill, 63, a woman of color and professor at Brandeis School of Law, inspired We Believe Survivors’ mission. Her courage in the face of adversity remains a beacon of strength.

In 1991, she testified before Congress at the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Republicans opposed her. Democrats berated her. She detailed horrific acts of sexual misconduct perpetrated against her by her former boss, Thomas. Her words were not enough to change the minds of lawmakers, and Thomas was confirmed. 

Most UF law students today are aware of Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery and the backlash she faced from testifying at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but many are unaware of Hill’s testimony. 

Ford’s testimony gripped UF law students. Many professors canceled class so students could watch her speak live. Rosenbury even sent an email to all students acknowledging that, “These hearings and other world events may evoke a range of emotions.” Rosenbury then offered resources including counseling services for those in need. Students appreciated this acknowledgement and support, as it was a difficult time for many.

Levin seems to understand the importance of believing and supporting survivors. The administration aided students during Blasey Ford’s testimony. On Twitter, Rosenbury offered to help Fuchs in his efforts to address campus sexual assault. How do we square these instances of acknowledgement, transparency and support with the Levin invitation to Thomas, a credibly accused sexual offender, to teach at the law school? We can’t help but note that, unlike Ford and Kavanugh, Hill and Thomas are black. Levin administration either doesn’t believe Hill, or doesn’t care if her accusations are true. Both of those possibilities are unacceptable.

We ask that Rosenbury and the Levin administration explain how the celebration of Clarence Thomas’ presence on campus will help the effort to address the culture at UF that has led to an increase in campus sexual assault. If we come forward, will we be treated like Hill? Will we be ignored while our abusers are paraded as esteemed guests at our law school? Does Levin really believe survivors? Or do we only believe survivors when their abusers aren’t powerful?

We Believe Survivors hopes that the law school’s administration will acknowledge this discrepancy. At the very least, we hope that the administration will offer additional mental health services and counseling resources while Thomas is on campus as this will likely be even more distressing for survivors than the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. 

We Believe Survivors is a new student organization at the UF Levin College of Law.


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