ibarra_walkout-2

Second year law students Cam Doran, left, and Victoria Koch lead students and staff down Maurice Avenue as they make their walk to the Oval. Koch, a second year law student and a survivor of sexual assault, wanted to show her support for other survivors at the School of Law and across campus.

About 100 UM law students walked out of classes at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law and marched to Main Hall Tuesday, demanding the resignation of Law School Dean Paul Kirgis and Associate Dean of Students Sally Weaver amid claims the administration discouraged students from taking allegations of sexual assault to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX on campus.

Adorned in purple shirts — the color representative of October as domestic violence awareness month — and holding signs reading “RESIGN NOW” and “SURVIVORS DESERVE ACCOUNTABILITY,” the students and supporters gathered behind UM’s School of Law to participate in the walkout at 11:45 a.m. 

After welcoming students and faculty to the walkout, second-year law student Annie Holland used one word to set the tone for the protest: solidarity. 

“We are here today because the law school administration has ignored, silenced and retaliated against survivors at this school for too long,” said second-year law student Everett Johns. “We stand in solidarity here today with survivors at the law school and across campus.”

The Daily Montanan reported on Oct. 1 that a letter from law students at the University of Montana was sent to Kirgis and Weaver on Sept. 30 asking for a change in leadership and for the current law school administration to stop threatening them and start providing support. 

Last week, the Daily Montanan also reported that multiple students said Kirgis and Weaver discouraged them from reporting allegations of sexual assault to the University. 

In her walkout speech, Holland said the issue is not with students or classes, but with administration. She added that  real change starts with a change in leadership, not additional training or telling a victim to read up on more resources.

Holland said when sexual assault takes place on campus and the Univeristy does not commit to addressing the assault, surivors are denied an equal education experience. She said survivors stop going to classes, participating in extracurricular activities and attending social gatherings where their perpetrator might be. 

Holland and Everett said they and their classmates are also fearful their careers will be negatively affected having UM’s School of Law on their resume. They do not want the current reputation of the school and its handling of sexual assault allegations to follow them in their future professions. 

“When a school operates out of fear of being sued by those accused of rape, but they are not afraid of being sued by a victim demanding justice, we must change that equation,” Holland said.

The event was co-organized by Holland and Johns, both survivors of sexual assault. 

“I know firsthand how it feels to be shut down, gaslit and ignored by those in charge,” Everett said. “I know what pain survivors feel when they walk into a school where Associate Dean Weaver has doubted our ability to recount our experiences accurately.”

Holland and Everett were also drafters of the letter sent to the law school administration. 

According to the Daily Montanan, Holland, Everett and a small group of other students had been planning the walkout since the end of August. 

“You have failed us,” said Johns, looking at Kirgis, who stood at the front of the crowd.

Following speeches by Holland and Johns, law students and faculty marched across the Oval chanting “We believe survivors,” “Pack it up Paul” and “Step down Sally.”

Joining the walkout was third-year law student Liz Forster who said the issue of administrative incompetence and unwillingness to listen has been bubbling for a long time. 

“We are discouraged from having conversations like this,” Forster said. “I think the impact of this is to say this is not just 10 people who are upset, this is a collective distrust and dissatisfaction.”

Forster said the walkout was important to symbolize large student unification as some articles previously reporting on the issue spoke to 10 to 15 students, a small number in proportion to the number of law students. 

Forster also added having a large group of people who are privy to the law and are still not being listened to nor taken seriously says a lot about the administration as a whole. 

The walkout ended in front of Main Hall with six words chanted across the Oval: “This is what unity looks like.”