While most university students expect hundreds to gather on the mall on an 80 degree, sunny day April 18 was different.
Preventing Sexual Assault (PSA) with Zeta Tau Alpha and Alpha Sigma Phi hosted Occupy McKeldin and Sit Down 2 Stand Up from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Alanna DeLeon, junior behavioral and community health major and member of PSA, said, “The overall goal of [Occupy Mckeldin] is to make sure that the university knows how prevalent sexual assault is on our campus. I, personally, wasn’t aware of it until I was directly affected: my friend got sexually assaulted last year, and I had no idea how many other people were affected.”
She said the goal of the event was to provide fun events, like acupuncture and therapy dogs, but also provide information with serious topics and speakers.
“We’re just coming out here to make sure students know … things aren’t being done and sexual assault is still happening and it’s happening more and more and the school is not trying to do anything,” DeLeon said. “The reporting process is horrible. We believe, as students, it’s our right to know [what is going on.]”
Sami Holder, senior psychology major and member of CARE (Campus Advocates Respond and Educate to Stop Violence) said, “CARE is the only confidential [support system] on campus that provides resources for victims or anyone affected by sexual assault. We also cover topics like stalking [and] domestic violence.”
CARE has two parts to its system: advocates who deal directly with victims or people affected by sexual assault and the peer health educators who go around campus providing information to students.
Groups like PSA and CARE, including the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Assault, were gathered on the mall with information and activities. Scheduled speakers and open mics were held throughout the day.
At 4 p.m., Lili Bernard took the mic to speak.
Bernard, an actress and artist, is also one of more than 50 women to come out against Bill Cosby for sexual assault. She was a guest star on The Cosby Show in the 90s. She said Cosby mentored her as a father figure during her time at the show.
Bernard recounted one of the assaults when Cosby took her across state borders, told her she was going to meet a producer, slipped drugs into her drink and raped her while she was incapacitated.
Bernard and her then boyfriend, now husband, eventually told Cosby they were going to charge him for the assault. Bernard said Cosby retaliated with, “Alright Bernard, I’ll promise you this, you and your little boyfriend go to the police and report me, I’m going to go to the police right after and report you for false accusation and defamation and who are they going to believe?”
The last thing Cosby said to Bernard in 1992 was, “You are dead Bernard, do you hear me? You are dead, you don’t exist.”
Bernard interpreted his words as death threats, feared for her life and kept silent for a long time.
Bernard became suicidal and was institutionalized for 72 hours in 1992. After her release, she was assigned a therapist who later became a witness for her accusations against Cosby. She said one of the most beautiful things her therapist remembered about her was she was too afraid to speak.
She was so afraid to speak and instead used art to convey her words. The therapist reminded Bernard she drew Cosby “as a dragon, as a demon.” When the Cosby accusations started to resurface in the fall of 2014, Bernard started to relive the trauma.
She compared and contrasted her PTSD to war veterans. “Whereas war veterans come home from their battles and are generally lauded and applauded, [as] rape victims, we are shamed and blamed and victimized and silenced.”
“War criminals wage their wars in foreign territories upon foreign lands and civilians. Rapists wage their wars upon the landscapes of women’s bodies,” Bernard said. She was put on suicide watch again in 2014 when more and more women came out with their own accounts of sexual assault by Cosby.
Bernard answered questions from the audience, then led the “Silent No More” workshop and group discussion for anyone who wanted to get involved and speak up against sexual assault through art.
Bernard recently took part in advocating for the lift of California’s statute of limitations for rape cases. In her personal case, the statute of limitations was up in New Jersey when she reported one of Cosby’s assaults. If passed, the proposed bill would only apply to crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2017, and those whose current statute of limitations hasn’t already expired.
The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct sponsored Occupy McKeldin in honor of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Featured Photo Credit: Students embrace each other during an emotional candle light vigil in front of McKeldin Library. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Allie Melton is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.