An anonymous account of rape on Twitter has ignited an activist firestorm at Spelman University, a historical Black college (HBCU) for women in Atlanta, Georgia.
"This is my freshmen (sic) year at Spelman and my last year because I decided to leave after what happened to me," an account identified only as RapedAtSpelman tweeted on May 2.
"I went to a party with my friends. There were a lot of people there and it was really fun, so we decided to drink with the upperclassmen," she continued. "I was drunk but that doesn't mean I forgot about what happened."
The user's subsequent tweets detail a violent assault by four students at Morehouse College — a prestigious all-male HBCU that shares the Atlanta University Center (AUC) campus with Spelman and Clark Atlanta University.
In her tweets, the Spelman student claims that it took the college a month to respond to her report of the assault. Administrators then allegedly asked her about what she wore that night, as well as why she chose to underage drink.
The student also alleges that administrators told her to give the Morehouse students a "pass" because of the schools' close relationship. The two institutions are frequently referred to by one name — SpelHouse — and host joint events, like homecoming. The colleges even boast about the rate of inter-campus marriage.
"Spelman has taught me to be a free thinking woman," the anonymous student tweeted, "and also to be a woman
who has to keep her mouth closed to protect her 'brothers.'"
Spelman President Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell issued a statement saying the school would review the events.
"We are a
family at Spelman and we will not tolerate any episode of sexual
violence,” Campbell said in a statement obtained by Revelist. "No student should ever have to suffer and endure the experience she has recounted on social media."
While these allegations have not been confirmed, some Spelman students and alumnae are less than shocked.
"I'm not surprised," Dr. Moya Bailey, a 2005 Spelman alumna, told Revelist. "…The onus was always put on us, as women, to make different choices: to be careful about what we drink; to be aware of our surroundings. And there didn't seem to be adequate or equivalent conversation happening at Morehouse, or [the other connected colleges]."
Evette Dionne, an alumna of Bennett College — the other HBCU for women — and Revelist's senior news and identity editor, confirms that this is the experience for many women at HBCUs.
"I can guarantee that at least 80% of female students at HBCUs have heard variations of this same 'respectable ladies don't tarnish their reputations' speech," she previously wrote in a piece for Mic. "Women are told to conform to an almost Stepford Wife-esque mold of womanhood to protect their reputation and the prestige of the school."
This emphasis on composure and reputation may be why so few women at HBCUs report their assaults in the first place. A 2011 study of HBCUs found that less than 10% of survivors at these schools ever report their assaults.
Melanie, a junior at Spelman, claimed the school's Title IX coordinator asked her why she didn't just leave the room during her alleged assault. Melanie's case was later transferred to — and dropped by — an outside consultant, who spoke with her only once.
Victoria Hall, a Spelman graduate, reported her assault in 2012. The case was adjudicated by a jury of faculty and peers, who peppered her with questions about what she was wearing and why she was out late. Ultimately, they assigned her perpetrator community service and an online course as punishment.
Melanie, Victoria, and the anonymous tweeter — and survivors before them — all complained of delayed proceedings, inappropriate questions, and a culture of support for the perpetrator.
"We want to look as if there's unity and brother — and sisterhood, sometimes to a fault," M. Bahati Kuumba, associate director of Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center, told BuzzFeed. "Which often times means don't critique, don't talk back."
Morehouse has been under investigation for Title IX violations since 2015, but the BuzzFeed article sparked renewed outrage on campus. Citing the Buzzfeed piece, a group of students, staff, and alumni called SpelHouse Against Rape published an open letter to administrators on March 8. They demanded six specific changes to the schools' sexual assault policies.
"We understand that both colleges have procedures in place," they wrote, "but we ask
are you — are we — doing enough to ensure our students have a safe and
That same day, Morehouse announced an "overhaul" of the school’s Title IX program. The broad announcement promised to create a more supportive environment for survivors, clarify the rights of complainants, and provide more timely resolution in sexual assault cases. It did not, however, admit fault in previous cases — nor did it touch on demands for more sexual assault education, safeguards for complainants, or the creation of an advisory board.
SpelHouse Against Rape, unsatisfied with the response, challenged the school to "go even further and adopt the additional recommendations we have made."
"I'm so fucking sick of victims being blamed and a BRAND being protected," a female student tweeted in response. "PROTECT MY SISTERS. SUPPORT MY SISTERS."
Spelman and Morehouse students organized a protest on Tuesday. Students carried signs with quotes from the Twitter account, and the message "We stand with the silenced survivor."
Other students displayed the hashtags #RapedAtSpelman and #RapedByMorehouse, which exploded on social media during and after the event. Still others plastered buildings with post-its reading "I deserve to be heard" and "protection over reputation."
The following day, the presidents of both Spelman and Morehouse responded with statements to the community. Morehouse announced a full review of the incident, Spelman reminded students that they are in the process of reshaping their sexual assault policies.
"As most students now prepare to leave our campus for the summer," Morehouse President John Silvanus Wilson wrote, "we ask that you return in the fall fully prepared to join in the fight against a scourge that has traumatized too many for far too long."
Through the outcry, the creator of the Twitter account has remained anonymous. But she confirmed on Tuesday that the protestors' messages were heard loud and clear.
"Thank you everyone for the support and the beautiful protest today,” she tweeted. "I was there."
This report was updated May 5 to include responses from the Morehouse and Spelman administrations.