Over the past few weeks, North Carolina A&T State Univerisity (NCAT) has been grappling with a burst of online and offline discussion regarding the frequent occurrence of sexual assault and the toxic rape culture that many students say permeates the campus. According to its students and alumni, NCAT has long struggled with these issues, but a culture of silence and stigma has caused them to largely remain unaddressed. But recently, several survivors have been incredibly outspoken about their experiences on Twitter, naming the perpetrators who assaulted them and using their social media platforms to urge the university to take action. Some of the most visible NCAT survivors are Kylah Guion, Raina Matthews, and Raina Gee. All three of these women have stressed the need for increased accountability for perpetrators, trauma-informed campus resources for survivors, and more effective sexual assault prevention education for NCAT students. 19-year-old Raina Matthews is a Journalism and Mass Communications major who told ESSENCE that she was assaulted by a band member only two months into her freshman year. After reporting the alleged assault and being provided with university counseling services, Matthews was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. However, the alleged perpetrator was not removed from campus, and Matthews often sees him. Almost every time, she is overcome by anxiety, which impacted her ability to attend class and her social life. Raina Gee, a Freshman Marketing major and former NCAT cheerleader, was allegedly sexually assaulted by a drum major in the band. After the incident, Gee wasn’t able to return to her classes until finals week, and even now, she’s still having trouble attending class consistently. Gee, who said that NCAT was her “dream school”, wants to stay where she is, even though every day is re-traumatizing and feels like an uphill battle. Gee said that NCAT was “where she belonged”, telling ESSENCE that, “If I transferred, I would feel like I’m quitting. I started something and now I want to finish.” This outcome isn’t uncommon. When survivors experience a sexual assault, it impacts almost every area of their lives, including their academic, professional, and social lives. Many survivors of campus assault are unable to return to their classes. This might be due to depression and fear of seeing the perpetrator or dealing with shaming comments from other classmates. For Matthews and Gee, this is a painful reality. Both of the men they reported are members of the band, a treasured and powerful institution on NCAT’s campus. Because of their social and institutional power, both of these men enjoyed a certain level of protection from the administration and/or the students. After attempting to rape Matthews and groping her private body parts, the perpetrator was given what Matthews calls “ a slap on the wrist” and hasn’t been removed from campus. The drum major who assaulted Raina Gee had a great deal of social influence within her circle, which caused Gee’s friends and cheerleading teammates to accuse her of lying about being assaulted.   As Black women attending a Black college, all three of the students speaking out acknowledged the ways that race has affected their experiences. Initially, Matthews didn’t want the perpetrator to get in trouble, because she feared him becoming “just another Black man,” facing punitive consequences from institutions that traditionally discriminate and oppress Black men. Grappling with the decision of whether to report the assault to the Greensboro police, she was reportedly urged by campus police – who cited concern for her well-being – to keep the situation “in-house.” Now, Matthews believes the university police had an ulterior motive; for them, protecting the perpetrator meant protecting the school from negative press and attention that would have resulted from a formal police report. Todd Simmons, Associate Vice Chancellor of University Relations, when asked if university police officers usually tell students not to file reports with local police, told ESSENCE that, “In any allegation of sexual assault, there are a range of different options that are available to victims. So, the circumstances under which a victim might access any of those services will be very individual and based on circumstances specific to that incident.”  Simmons also said that although the NCAT reporting rate has remained fairly low over the years – only “a handful” – the university is, “Constantly seeking ways to encourage those who have been victimized to come forward”. For Gee, the issue also lies in the way that the Black community, and the larger society, views Black women telling ESSENCE that, “As Black women, we’re already sexualized, then when we come out about stuff like this, we’re not looked at as innocent or pure. We don’t have the same [support] as white women.” This racial bias directly reflects in sexual assault rates. Women of color consistently experience sexual assault at higher rates than white women. And for every Black woman who reports her rape, fifteen don’t, largely because they fear they won’t be believed. That’s why acknowledging this growing movement at NCAT is so important: for too long, we have assumed that campus sexual assault mainly affects white women, erasing women of color from the conversation. All the women who came forward – and people, including men, who haven’t spoken out about their assaults yet – have received overwhelming support from their classmates, both on and off Twitter. Students are also accessing various services provided by the university. Through these services, Simmons stated, “We seek to understand the students’ needs and meet them to the fullest extent.”   But these students are challenging viewpoints that have been ingrained in our society for a long time, and many people are furious with them for it. Guion has been attacked physically attacked three times on campus by people who were angry at her for naming the person who assaulted her. Gee has also received several threatening anonymous phone calls. Guion says that she experiences more support than she experiences hostility, but that the negative comments “cut.” “I’ve basically bared my soul to the internet, and it’s still not enough for some people,” Guion said. On Feb. 12, the university held a forum on sexual assault – they hold these forums once a semester, except for summer sessions – where students could receive information about sexual assault, learn more about the resources the school already offers, express their concerns, and discuss ways that the university could change. For Guion, that change can’t come through superficial means, but an entire culture shift. According to Guion, the way the campus engages with the issue of sexual assault is “Odd… everyone knows about it, but no one talks about it.” Guion also firmly believes that the university must launch sexual assault prevention programs that are more culturally responsive, customized for HBCU students. Simmons says this is something the university would consider. “As the nation’s largest HBCU, and one with a very long history of showing leadership around violence against women, we’re always looking for ways to deepen the impact and effectiveness of this work… certainly including it being culturally responsive and taking into account the different dynamics around HBCU culture. I don’t think that work is ever done,” Simmons said. After the sexual assault forum, many students left feeling invalidated, saying that their concerns were not addressed and that they still don’t feel safe on campus. Guion strongly feels that NCAT needs programs that deliver a thorough and nuanced education about consent and  “ties in history and culture around sexual assault in the Black community instead of the generic textbook ‘yes means yes, no means no,’… [that way is] not working, it’s never worked, but no one has tried to change it. Although the sexual assault crisis at NCAT seems widespread, the university is not alone. Campus sexual assault is a pervasive issue that arguably, few institutions of higher education have handled well. But Simmons says that NCAT is committed to continuing to “deepen their impact,” and support survivors. Simmons told ESSENCE that, “The issues that we’re talking about of course aren’t specific to NCAT. Campuses across the country are facing these dynamics. When we see and hear victims finding their voices and speaking up about what they’ve suffered and doing their part to try to shine a light on these issues, it’s a welcome thing. I think we all ought to be appreciative of folks who have suffered enough and are standing up and saying ‘Yes this happened to me and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.’” TOPICS: