UM Students Plan Silent Protest Today Over Rape Assailant Allowed to Graduate

Updated May 19, 2015: New developments have called Cameron's allegations into question, including an additional claim against her alleged attacker that was investigated by Coral Gables police and ruled "unfounded." Cameron has not responded to calls from New Times.

Some of the seniors graduating today at the University of Miami will wear an extra detail on their graduation caps. As a reminder of the promise of Title IX, the federal law that protects students from discrimination, students are placing the roman numerals "IX" on top of their caps in red, white, blue, and yellow tape.

Students say the silent protest is being organized to support those who have been let down by UM in its investigations of sexual assault cases on campus. In particular, organizers want to draw more attention to the story of junior Angela Cameron, who was assaulted in April 2014.

Last year, Cameron’s assailant was found “responsible” for sexual assault and intimate partner violence by the Dean of Student’s Office. (Police declined to pursue criminal charges, in part because Cameron didn't report the assault until a week later.) Her assailant was suspended for one semester but will graduate today.

Junior Darlene Hollander, a student advocate for sexual assault victims, says that punishment was inadequate. 

“We find it reprehensible that the university would confer a degree to someone who has already been found guilty of intimate partner violence and sexual assault,” Hollander says. “If a student cheats, they get a semester punishment, but [rape] is a criminal act.”

On April 21, Hollander and fellow students and faculty launched a petition on behalf of Cameron, seeking to get her assailant kicked off campus before graduation. (The assailant's name has never been publicly released; Cameron has repeatedly told her own story on the record in the hopes of changing UM's approach to cases like hers.)

The petition received close to 5,500 signatures and was delivered to campus administration, but Hollander says there has been no official response. 

So she and six other students used their own money this week to buy supplies to hand out for the silent protest after learning of similar initiatives at schools including Brown, Columbia, and Harvard. She said they have shown roughly 100 students how to apply the tape to their graduation caps.

Hollander says the protest won't be big or disruptive, but the students believe it will be powerful.

“This is an expression of frustration but also a call for change,” Hollander says. “The current process of how these cases are handled is not victim-friendly.” 

Update: On May 16, the Miami Herald published the name of the alleged assailant, David Jia. Last month, a judge granted Cameron a restraining order against Jia after a complaint that he had beaten her. But then on May 8, UM President Donna Shalala released a public statement about the accusation, saying it was “unfounded.” Last week, the Coral Gables police released its findings, which "found that Jia wasn’t even in town during the early morning hours of April 6 of this year, when Cameron claimed he grabbed her wrist and neck and threw her into a wall," the Herald reports
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Jessica Weiss