To the Editorial Board of the Daily Cardinal,
I want to start by flagging this letter with a Trigger Warning(!) due to the discussion of sexual assault, a sensitive topic to many people.
On Tuesday, March 31st, after District 8 Alder Candidate Juliana Bennett shared that she is a survivor of sexual assault on the Badger Votes Forum, hosted by Pod-Cast Your Vote on Facebook. The remarks from Bennett came after a question from an audience member about sexual assault on campus. The post’s caption described the purpose of the Podcast was to increase voter awareness and remind “all students of the power they hold to change the world.” Furthermore, the purpose of hosting the candidates was to learn “how these students are stepping up to be leaders in the city... and the power of the student voice.”
As students on campus, we must realize the weight of our words and their impact on the community around us. Pod-Cast Your Vote is right― we can change the world with the power of the student voice. So when Ayomi Obuseh, a student leader and candidate for District 8 Alder― a district that predominantly encompasses campus residents― publicly denied a survivor’s claim to be a victim of sexual assault, it was incredibly disheartening. When she accused the survivor of doing it first to “gain empathy” and second for chicanery, it was hypocritical and spoke volumes about her own character.
Survivors of sexual assault are frequently gaslit by their oppressors. Survivors of sexual assault are commonly silenced and judged by their communities. These pressures build up to suppress the voices of survivors from speaking up to tell their stories, to find the necessary resources, and to bring justice to their oppressors.
Obuseh’s Facebook post was ambiguous enough for her to deny that this was directed at Bennett. However, it was posted shortly after the Forum, indicating that it was in response to the discussion. The news article published Wednesday afternoon by this paper included Obuseh’s response to the Bennett Campaign’s Press Release, which had included a quote from Bennett, saying, “I’m saddened and appalled by anyone… gaslighting my experiences as a survivor. Such rhetoric is extremely harmful.” To which Obuseh stated that “the post was made in reference to someone else”... “an individual she believed was falsely implying to have experienced domestic abuse.” This article then noted that Obuseh “apologized for the post and said that it was reactionary,” referring to the Facebook post which she had deleted.
Obuseh’s post said that sexual assault is not something that we should “placate” and that Bennett’s response was “chicanery.” But for a student leader and Alder candidate with a platform and decently-sized following to say just that is hypocritical and deeply unsettling. Her “apology” was simply that she wasn’t directing the words towards her opponent. There was no apology for her accusations or reckless and irresponsible comments that discredited someone else’s story. Obuseh’s accusation is exactly how sentiments of gaslighting and erring on the side of skepticism are dominating social culture when survivors share their stories, especially when words like hers are general and nonspecific. If she had named someone explicitly and made her accusations more targeted, audiences could at least have had the context to which she was referring and would’ve supported her claim of chicanery. Absent of that, she is fueling the society that demands survivors stay quiet, a society that looks at survivors with suspicion rather than empathy.
Social media is known for its negative qualities, particularly fueling hate. A public accusation invalidating a survivor is never okay, whether targeted and specific or general and inexplicit. This is precisely why there is a significant discrepancy between the number of sexual assault victims on campus (1 in 4 women) and the number of sexual assault instances reported (1 in 11 women).
Why did Obuseh delete her post? Because she knew it was problematic― but that is not what she apologized for. The hypocrisy and blatant gaslighting are discouraging and saddening. Words coming from a student leader and Council candidate is even more unnerving and destructive. And it is isolating.
The Cardinal should have included a trigger warning for the content. The Cardinal should pull their endorsement from Obuseh’s campaign.
Most importantly, Obuseh should drop out of the race. This was not a gaffe or a momentary lapse in judgment. She didn’t apologize for the accusation, and the impact of her words has a more considerable consequence than she is willing to admit. Not knowing her post’s problematic nature and not recognizing it publicly is unbecoming of a candidate looking to represent Madison’s students and youth.
UW-Madison student leaders should be better than this. We need to start creating an atmosphere that welcomes survivors’ stories and empathizes with the constant struggle of society silencing their voices. This is unacceptable, and I encourage my community and this newspaper to recognize that. We need to do more if we are ever to make the change that we audaciously claim that we can do.
Kaitlin Kons, Taylor Scofield, Matthew Mitnick, Trevor Witz, Daniel Ledin, Djamal Lylecyrus, Lourdes Puig, Natalie Ierien, Elena Haasl, Nada Elmikashfi