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Politics & Government

'Enough is enough': UD students protest culture of gendered violence

Students at the University of Delaware are protesting what they paint as a pervasive culture of gendered violence on campus. 

  

Dozens and dozens of students—of all genders—marched up and down Newark’s Main Street Wednesday, demanding consequences for abusers and prevention of sexual assault and other violence at the University. 

“Respect women,” they chanted, “silence is compliance,” and “enough is enough.”

The protest was sparked by charges against UD student and former fraternity brother Brandon Freyre, for allegedly hitting a woman with blunt objects, spraying her in the eyes with spray paint, strangling her to unconsciousness, holding her in a room for several hours and throwing her down a flight of stairs. Newark police arrested the 20-year-old on charges of kidnapping, assault, strangulation, terroristic threatening and criminal mischief last week.  

University officials say Freyre has been temporarily severed from the University, meaning he is not allowed on campus or to access any University services while his criminal proceedings play out. Officials say he could ultimately face consequences up to and including expulsion.

But students say the issue is bigger than one incident. 

Audrey Keen is secretary of the student group Generation Action, which advocates for reproductive rights and helped organize the rally. She says protesters are demanding that Freyre be expelled from the University and that steps be taken to make the campus a safer place. 

“Our demands are that it’s prevented before it ever starts,” Keen said. “Gender-based violence is a huge issue right now, and this is proof.”

Keen says fraternity culture in particular breeds this violence, and that campus resources for victims of assault aren’t advertised or funded enough. Keen adds there aren’t enough consequences for abusers on campus.

“Absolutely not,” Keen said. “Not here, not anywhere.”

Survivors of sexual assault testified Wednesday to their experiences on campus. Other students addressed the group, calling for greater enforcement of rules against bystander complicity in assault, more mandatory trainings for fraternity members, and for blue light stations where victims can call for help to be expanded and better maintained. 

Other marchers criticized the University’s response to Freyre’s arrest. The University released a statement Tuesday evening, hours after a student protest that day, saying UD followed its Code of Conduct, which allows the University to separate students from UD upon arrest for a violent felony. The University also said Freyre’s fraternity had permanently revoked his membership. 

“Finding out what happened, it’s just sickening,” said Annie Hoffman, a senior at UD who marched Wednesday. “The fact that the school hasn’t responded to it, until we pushed them to, is even more disgusting.”

Hoffman says because of the culture at UD, she always carries pepper spray at night, watches her drink at parties and feels nervous walking alone. 

“I think everyone here knows of someone who’s been assaulted here,” Hoffman said. 

Among the protesters were members of the men’s crew team. 

“What happened on this campus is disgusting,” said Michale Zuppas, a sophomore on the team. “I think it’s our job as men to aid women in this fight for equality and justice.”

Zuppas says the team plans to raise money for domestic violence resources such as hotlines and therapy. 

State Rep. Paul Baumbach attended the protest and called for action guided by the demands of students. 

“It’s clearly an issue on campus,” he said. “We need to make sure that we have a zero tolerance policy here, and that it’s known by the entire student body—not just those on campus, but those off campus also, whether it be the Greek organizations or whoever. We need the University clear on that—as clear as the students are here tonight.”

José-Luis Riera, the University’s vice president for student life, showed up toward the end of Wednesday's protest. He told Delaware Public Media he heard a desire for action and more forums in which students can “express their voices.”

But Riera pushed back on some student claims, saying the University already investigates all reports of assault by students and holds perpetrators accountable. He added that the University requires members of fraternities to receive trainings, and said the University may look for ways to revamp these. He also said rates of violence on UD’s campus are lower than in the broader society. He blamed the fear that many students—particularly women—feel on societal issues. 

“We are really conscious that regardless of what the statistics are, the lived experience for a woman on this campus is one that I think resonates with women everywhere, in terms of their vulnerabilities around the potential threat to their own safety,” Riera said. 

Asked whether the University has a responsibility to create a better environment than this for its female students, Riera said yes. 

“We’re absolutely committed to that, and that’s what we’re working toward everyday,” Riera said.