MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A number of students of the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) held a silent protest outside the school's administration building Friday, October 18, as a dialogue between school officials and concerned faculty and students went on inside.
The crowd was smaller than the Tuesday, October 15 protest, for which over 200 students gathered outside the school's humanities building to express indignation over how the school investigates cases of sexual harassment.
On Friday morning, students from various groups that have formed what they are now calling the Ateneo student body's anti-sexual harassment movement, held up signs that read, "Stand with victims" and "No to harassment!" They exchanged their own experiences of unsolicited sexual conduct as they anticipated news from the dialogue.
"I want to demand from the administration that they handle this issue much better," said Bee Leung, an alumna.
"The issue now is coming to a boiling point. It’s time for the Ateneo administration to take concrete steps, instituting zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment, and making concrete steps in making safer spaces and a safer support network for victims and survivors of sexual assault," she added.
She said she went to the protest not just as a graduate but as a woman, too.
The dialogue took over two hours, and when the parties – including Ateneo President Fr Jett Villarin SJ – emerged from the entrance of the Ateneo vice president's office, there was a short silence. Then, there were apologies from the president, who, on Wednesday, released a memo about a proposed anti-sexual harassment manual without acknowledging the protest from the day prior.
"Ateneo [is] not a space for sexual predators. We do not want to foster this culture of silence," he said.
"We’d like to look for ways to encourage those who’ve been hurt to come forward, please. If we can, [let's] help each other to be brave, so that we can really stamp out these people, this sexual harassment and these sexual predators," he added.
Villarin said the administration is hoping to come up with concrete steps and “do something significant in the next few weeks,” though it has not given a definite timeline of the university's plans.
In a formal apology sent to the Ateneo community later that day, Villarin wrote:
"There is much we can do to make our processes more responsive, more efficient, more sensitive, more caring, and more Christian."
"I wish to thank all the groups that have come forward with their statements of support for the victims, and for all those who have reached out to the administration with criticisms, comments, and suggestions. We accept all these with true humility. We in administration still have much learning and listening to do to make things better," he added.
Some students see this promise from Villarin as a step toward improving the school's system of dealing with sexual harassment on campus. The student council, in a tweet after the dialogue, said it would "work on the structural and policy changes with the Loyola Schools Gender Hub and other concerned offices in the university."
It also said it would continue coordinating with the school administration until students see concrete actions that would ensure a safer campus that does not allow the presence of sexual predators. – Rappler.com