A History of Feminist Activism
at Miami University, Oxford Campus


By Stephanie Abrams
American Studies, May 1993
Miami University


   The issue of women's safety and violence against women have consistently been the concern of feminist activists nationally, as well as on Miami's campus. These issues are some that basically all feminists can agree on, that is, rape, batter and other sexual assaults are undesirable and oppressive.

   One student group that has dealt with the issue of sexual assault at Miami is the Association of Women Students (AWS). Although the group has been politically active since the late 1970's, AWS was not always this way.

   A group called Women's Self Government Organization was founded in 1912, shortly after women were admitted to the University. All women automatically belonged, and the group served as a women's parallel to men's student government. During the 1950's, the title of the group was changed to the Association of Women Students, as it remains today. All women students belonged and were encouraged to participate in elections for the executive committees and to be involved with the group. Historically, issues concerning AWS included visitation hours, women students' living situations, and dress codes.

   Towards the late 1960's and early 1970's, AWS began working for the safety of women on and off campus. In 1968, the organization sponsored a self defense program that included a talk given by Professor Robert Sherwin on the psychology of the criminal mind, the Oxford Police showing a map of poorly lit areas, and a karate demonstration. In a December, 1969 Student article, AWS was encouraged to repeat the program, which they did the following January.(6)

   In a January 1970 article "AWS Panel Explains Rape Defense," the traditional attitude towards rape and women's safety was expressed. One paragraph states "Despite rumors to the contrary, Dr. Schumacher stated that in the past 18 years there have been only five or six actual rapes at Miami with only one girl suffering severe injuries." (7) Dr. Schumaker was a gynecologist and director of the health service. This statement goes against what we know now, as well as what the December 1969 article stated "During the 1967-68 school year, 11 cases of assault were reported to the Dean of Women's Office. The following year the number doubled. The figure that year included some cases of actual rape. So far this quarter, seven women have reported assaults including one attempted and one real rape." (8) These contradictions suggest that the University's statistics about rape were inconsistent. In addition the language used such as "real" or "actual" rape and "girl" suggest there had not been much critical treatment of the subject of rape on this campus.

   Another common view of rape seen in the student newspaper was that rapes are carried out by a sick or psychotic man, rather than any average college male influenced by societal standards and peers. In the January 1970 article, there are a few examples of this. Wallace Miller, the superintendent of Safety and Security "explained that the men who usually cause trouble are from the surrounding areas and are drawn to campus by its atmosphere and the hope of picking up a girl in the 'uptown beer gardens."(9) This statement removes the perpetrators from residency in Oxford, pointing to "other" men. This sentiment repeats the idea in the 1969 article that reports "a college campus, particularly the campus of a state university, provides any would- be deviant with a ready made cluster of young, attractive females."

   Finally, the responsibility and blame were heavily placed upon the woman. On the 1970 panel a psychology professor, Alvin Mahrer, gave a clearly Freudian analysis. "There are certain women who invite attack" he is quoted as saying and the article later paraphrased that: " although some women appear appalled at the thought of being raped, they actually harbor conscious or unconscious desires to be mauled or beaten."(10)

   These ideas, espoused by the all- male AWS panel, hopefully seem archaic today. Nonetheless, these panels were a step in the right direction, raising rape as an issue for women on campus, and providing opportunities for the beginning of a dialectic, as well as an opportunity for women to learn some self- defense tactics.

   Throughout the years, AWS continued to work for Rape Awareness on campus. The October 31, 1972 issue of the Student announced on the front page that "AWS Plans 'Rape- Guard.'" (11) The Rape Guard plan was a tentative escort service, planned in conjunction citron with the Men's Inter-Residence Council. In addition, AWS recommended that residence halls have more than one door have outside locks, so that after hours women residents would not have to walk around the hall in the dark.

   In November of 1972, AWS again held a panel discussing rape. The reporter, Donna True, stressed the facet of the program that encouraged women to report their attacks. According to True, the panel also discussed the difficulties a rape survivors must face following her attack, including insensitive police questioning. In addition the panel discussed Oxford statistics and "According to (Sgt. Roger) Newton, three actual rapes have been reported in 1972. A reduction in reports has occurred since lights in dark area and the escort service have been established" (12). Some of the attitudes towards rape seem to be changed in this article, but not drastically, for Professor Sherwin was still a member of the panel, citing six 'types' of rapists. Certainly, a portion of the change can be attributed to continued campus rape awareness programs sponsored by AWS.

   In 1974, Together, an informal counseling service in Oxford, told the Student that a "drastic' increase in complaints about rape has been reported this school year"(13). This increase probably indicates not an increase in rapes, but an increased awareness about rape are legitimate and will not be ignored. Slowly, it seems that the student newspaper and campus security were learning to treat seems that the student newspaper and campus respect than they had previously received. Steve Silvers, a counselor at Together, said, "We have no doubt that our calls about rape have been the real thing and not crank. . . You can't fake what things are going through those women's minds." This quotation indicates an increased respect for assault survivors in two ways. Silver does not doubt a woman's report, whereas before, a Student article(14) reported "most accusations of rape prove to be less than what is charged, as often a girl accuses a male as a form of revenge, according to police authorities." Secondly, Silvers uses word "woman" instead of "girl," showing a growing sensitivity to women students by removing the child-like status implied by use of the word girl.

   In 1974, women's and men's government merged to create what is now Associated Student Government (ASG). At this times, AWS no longer automatically included all women. Women had to join and pay dues, and the group began functioning as a special interest group. Membership drastically decreased, and the organization made many pleas for participation on the part of women students. Still, the group did not identify itself as a feminist group, although they did work for some feminist issues. AWS's constitution states its purpose is "To educate the university community as to the special needs, concerns and issues that confront women and affect the community as a whole." (15) As one member explained, "We are not really women's libbers or radicals," (AWS social president Carol) Horst said. "Our main objective is to increase people's awareness of themselves and increasing the human potential.'" (16) Thus the feminist activism of AWS remained limited to rape awareness.

   Later, in 1978, this awareness and sensitivity is reported in the article "Programs may be key to more reported rapes". The lead paragraphs says, "Women's awareness programs have caused an increase in reported rapes over the past few months though the actual number of rapes probably has not increased," and Linda Ade-Ritter, coordinator of the Women's Resource Center said, "Because of 'converging efforts' of campus women's' organizations Miami has advanced a great deal in the past year."(17)

   In early 1979, a four day series exploring acquaintance rape was sponsored by Butler County Planned Parenthood, The Women's Resource Center and Together. The Student reported "Most rapes are committed by acquaintances, not 'by the guy who jumps out of the bushes,' said Linda Ade-Ritter, program coordinator of WRC." (18) Later, in September, the Student reported that yearly AWS program on rape. In 1979, it was planned in conjunction with Together, Inc. and focused on Acquaintance Rape. (19) These programs show a move away from the idea of the deviant, psychotic rapist, towards an awareness that "normal" college men commit rapes as well.

   Increased awareness also led to the re-establishment of an escort service jointly run by AWS and the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega in September 1979. Despite the establishment of the service, the paper reported a large number of sexual assaults/rapes, and that October, the Oxford chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) held Oxford's first Take Back the Night March.

   Oxford NOW was established in January of 1979, with Kathy McMahon-Klosterman as a catalyst. The group consisted of students, faculty, staff, as well as Oxford residents not affiliated with the University. The Student reported McMahon- Klosterman said, "Clearly we need continuing education of our local agencies and rape crisis counseling in Oxford is essential." (20) Butler County NOW, which was already in existence, had established the rape crisis counseling center that included a 24 hour hotline. The hope was that the Oxford chapter of NOW would strengthen the existing women's organizations at Miami and in the community.(21)

   The Take Back the Night march was one way for NOW to achieve their goal. The march was used as an attempt to protest and draw attention to rapes and sexual assaults in the Oxford area. The Student reported that more than 120 women and men participated in the march, similar to marches held by women's groups across the country. The marchers wore light colored clothes, carried flashlights or candles that signified mourning for women who had been raped and assaulted, and sang verses of "Take Back the Night," written especially for these marches. NOW also established a Rape Task Force that collected information surrounding the issue.

   In the light of the march, the Women's Resource Center(WRC), founded in 1977 with a mission to help and support women, began offering a discussion and support group for survivors of rape or sexual assault. Later that school year, the Student ran a 13 part series called "Rape: Oxford's hidden crime." This series, beginning in February 1980, shows a progression in awareness. One article asks "Who is the rapist? He's not just the shadowy figure who lurks in dark streets and alleys. Though sometimes a stranger, a rapist can be a classmate, a neighbor or even a boyfriend."(22) Later in the series, an article reported that three policemen attended a rape education program in Cincinnati, and Together, Inc. gave security officers "sensitivity training" over the summer.(23) The actions were made in an attempt to encourage women to report their attacks. The series also reported that AWS conducted a survey about outdoor lighting in an attempt to locate trouble spots. Improved lighting has consistently been a preventative method that women's groups advocate. Finally, the series talked about Project TIPP (Treatment, Information, Prosecution and Prevention Report), initiated that spring, which gathers information about reported rapes and sexual assaults with the purpose of eliminating rumors. Although this is helpful, the figures will still be under- representative of the actual number of rapes occurring because not all rapes are reported. The editorial at the conclusion of the series stressed the fact that lighting needed improvement, the escort service should be used, and awareness should be increased. (24) AWS and other women's groups continued their efforts for education, awareness, and prevention. In November of 1980, Take Back the Night march was held again, this time sponsored by both Oxford NOW and AWS.

   In October of 1981, approximately thirty women and one man marched to take back the night. Daena Goldsmith, the president of AWS, said that the march was "a quiet protest against violence against women."(25)

   Women's "quiet protest" faded out of existence and between the years of 1983 and 1986, no Take Back the Night March was held in Oxford. However, limited action around the issue of rape existed. For instance, in September 1984, a rape awareness program was presented by Program Board. A Miami police officer Janet Riggs spoke at the presentation. The analysis of the cause of rape was slowly changing . "Riggs said a rapist is compelled by anger and the thought of controlling and humiliating his victim." (26) Later, in November 1986, the university held a lecture entitled "Dating Dynamics: Who's in Charge of Your Sexual Relationships." The speaker Andrea Parrot of Cornell University, told the audience that rape is most often committed by acquaintances.(27) This program differed from earlier programs that attributed rape to strangers and psychotics, affirming women's experiences of acquaintance rape.

   By 1987, a group of radical feminist students, including Elisabeth Braeman, Lesha Ewers, and Terri Lotz, formed a core group of women in AWS. At this point, AWS had become overtly political, and the women pursued several feminist issues. In the fall, Take Back the Night March was reinstated and the march in the following years imitated the prototype the women set in 1987. One major change in the march was the exclusion of men. That year, AWS sponsored a rape speak- out immediately prior to the march, that allowed women to voice their experiences of rape, that officials felt made the exclusion of men necessary for women's comfort and protection. Five men followed the march giving support. Lesha Ewers, the executive coordinator for AWS, told a reporter that this was Miami's first march in many years.(28) The march in 1988 presented the same dynamics, and AWS refused to speak to male reporters. This tactic was used by radical feminists nationally to pull women reporters into important assignments.

   This core group of radical women was heavily influenced by Philosophy and Women Studies professor, Linda Singer, who taught at Miami from 1982-90. According to Susan Eacker, a former student of Signer's and a graduate student in Miami's History department, Singer "hated fissure between academia and activism."(29) Singer's presence and teachings created more activism on Oxford's campus surrounding women's issues and was behind much of the core group of radical student's activism.

   The group of radical feminists in charge of AWS during the 1987-88 school year also attempted to make other changes. The escort service that had traditionally been shared by the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and AWS was one program under AWSs scrutiny. AWS decided to use only women escorts, and A Phi O removed its volunteer support. Elizabeth Braeman, member of AWSs executive committee said, "It is a service for women and should be done by women. We are not trying to exclude men, but have them work within their own community to combat problems like rape" (30). AWS claimed that in the past, there were too many volunteers, and no way for a woman who was being escorted to be sure her escort was legitimate. In addition, women being escorted by men would continue women's reliance upon men, instead of being able to rely on other women for safety. Rather than look at rapists as deviants, Braeman of AWS maintained that "it's hard to screen out someone who's not going to rape" and that "we only want women because we can trust women not to rape."(31)

   As a result of this change, two men filed sex discrimination complaints with the office of affirmative Action against AWS because they were denied employment in the AWS escort service. In December of 1987, Robert Etheridge, the vice president and dean for student affairs, decided against the recommendation of a five member hearing committee on the sex discrimination grievance. Etheridge declared that the complaining student, Scott Ogden, was denied employment t unfairly, and should be reinstated as an escort immediately. AWS proceeded to appeal the decision to University President Paul Pearson. In January, Pearson supported Etheridge's decision that sex discrimination had occurred.

   The women involved became outraged. It was their position that "all women are potential rape victims." "In fact, one in three women will be raped," Ewers said. "So why can't all men be assumed to be potential rapists? This is a rape prevention program." (32) A group including the core members of AWS formed a grouped called Women Committed to Women's Safety(WCWS).

   On February 1, 1988, the group staged an eleven-hour sit-in, including 48 women, outside the President's office in Roudebush Hall. WCWS mad several demands. According to one flyer issued by the group they were: 1. that the TIPP report be conspicuously published in the Student every month, including the place and time of the assault occurred, 2. that lights come on at dusk, campus wide and year round, 3. that Public Safety foster an environment responsive to women's needs, 4. that an improved rape awareness program for all first year students at orientation be established, 5. that the women students have the right to request and approve the director of the AWS Escort Service, 6. that use of a Public Safety car be independent of the choice of the director of the AWS Escort Service (The women had previous conflicts with their advisors and did not want to be penalized if they did not choose someone the administration would have.), 7. that the office of Public Safety cooperate with the service, including providing direct radio communication with the AWS Escort Service, 8. that funding be guaranteed for AWS for the 1988-89 school year, 9. that all volunteer escorts be women, 10. that Pearson's decision against AWS regarding the sexual discrimination suit be reevaluated, 11. that the University administration support the pursuit of a bona fide occupation qualification for work- study positions of the Escort Service to be all women.(33) In meetings between Pearson, Myrtis Powell, the executive assistant to the president, and student representatives of WCWS, the president agreed to most of the demands, and agreed to the idea of an all-woman volunteer escort service as a way of circumventing discrimination suits, maintaining his decision that any group funded with university monies must be non-discriminatory.

   However, in April of that year, the President changed his decision in light of the 1987 Civil Rights Restoration Act, which, according to Pearson "raised new doubts about the legality of a single-sex volunteer activity."(34) Thus, the President disallowed the all-woman volunteer escort service. Instead he proposed an all-university Student Transport Safety Service operated by the Department of Public Safety and staffed by paid student workers. The service would be operated with two student teams including one woman and one man. He said that "such a transport service should, then, be available to all students who are fearful of walking alone during the dark hours and/or who are limited in mobility due to a physical disability."(35)

   In addition, Pearson announced four other initiatives "that will build upon some of out current and ongoing efforts to address the needs of women at Miami University."(36) First, Pearson appointed the President's Commission on the Improvement of the Status of Women Faculty, Staff, and Students at Miami University. Secondly, Pearson authorized another Assistant Director position in the Department of Affirmative Action and Human Resource Development, whose primary concern would be issues concerning women faculty, staff, and students. Thirdly, he recommended a Victim Assistance and Support Service Program, linking Miami to the already established Oxford Crisis and Referral Center. Finally, Pearson recommended a Peer-Delivered Health and Safety Program, focusing on education to "enhance the health, safety, and general well-being of both men and women."

   The President's final reaction to the sit ins was ultimately disappointing to the women involved, mainly because Pearson disallowed an all- woman escort service. However, many of their demands wee met in a roundabout way, and are still implemented today. The TIPP report is published each month in the Student, The Campus Assault Prevention Program (formerly Saferide) offers van transportation to anyone requesting it during certain hours, and the University now offers Miami Metro- a shuttle bus system, both providing increased safety.

   AWS continues to hold Take Back the Night Marches each year, still to the exclusion of men. Men students mainly from Western campus have organized an alternative program in support of the women marchers since 1987. The men meet and discuss, and cheer and encourage the marchers. In January of 1993, two men students, Ari Green and David Powell initiated a group called Men Against Rape. Posting signs saying "Are you tired of RAPE- then why don't you do something about it?" and "What can men do to end violence against women? Isn't it our responsibility to find out? Join Men Against Rape." The group holds weekly discussions on the topic, in an attempt to raise the awareness of men, students, and get men involved in activism against violence against women.

   Today, women's safety is a main concern of many activists on campus, and the need for programs and precautions is met with less skepticism than it received in the past. Certainly, there is not a sense of arrival for activists on the issue of safety. However, groups such as Men Against Rape demonstrate a sensitivity (that did not exist previously) to the subject and an awareness that rape is not only a women's issue.


Contents | Acknowledgments | Introduction | Women's Safety | Images of Women | Education | Conclusion | Endnotes

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