“Keep our forest safe:” protest draws hundreds

Students angered over the readmission of a former student expressed dissent outside Poteat Residence Hall and Reynolda Hall


Katie Fox

On August 28, hundreds of students marched around Hearn Plaza demanding accountability from university administrators. We covered the protest and its fallout extensively in the spring semester.

Over 300 students gathered at Poteat Residence Hall today at noon in protest against the readmission of a student accused of assaulting another Wake Forest student in 2019. 

Some protestors wrote messages in chalk across the concrete in the courtyard. “Hold rapists accountable,” read one. Outside the student’s dorm room, someone had scrawled: “Kick him (back) out.”

The protest follows a public Snapchat story posted by the female student who made the allegation. According to the post, she filed a complaint with the Title IX office in 2019. Her post claims that she was not informed by the administration of the other student’s return to campus. On Friday, she withdrew from Wake, saying she “feels unsafe here and does not want to fight the school for the right to a safe education anymore,” the post said.

At this time, the Old Gold & Black can find no public record to confirm the allegation of sexual assault against the student. 

For this reason, OGB has chosen not to name him. 

Hours after the Snapchat story was posted, multiple posts calling for a public protest surfaced on Yik Yak, a social media platform that allows members within a five-mile radius of one another to post anonymously. The protest time and location was conceived by sophomore Elizabeth Langshur. 

“We obviously want the school to get rid of him,” said Langshur. “All we want is for the administration to keep us safe. There has been no recognition that he has returned.”

The OGB Editorial team reached out and made contact with the re-admitted student, but upon exchanging initial messages with him, have not yet heard back to schedule an interview. 

Residence Life and Housing (RLH) Dean Matthew Clifford spoke to the Old Gold & Black about RLH’s responsibility in keeping students safe.

“We work closely with the Title IX office if a student is found responsible in order to navigate outcomes from that particular case,” Clifford said. “Or, if in consultation with University Police and Title IX, there is information… of a threat to the residential environment, then we have an obligation to inform students.”

The protest

Students peered over the balconies of Poteat both to observe and participate in a mass protest that began at noon in the residence hall’s courtyard. After a brief period of chants, including “hey hey, ho ho, rapists here have got to go” and “kick him out”, the students began a march onto Hearn Plaza in a column which took up around three-fourths of the circular path around the quad.

Members of Greek life organizations gathered in support of the protest. Students carried signs with various messages that read: “Rape Forest?” and “Keep Our Forest Safe”.

“This is a complete contradiction of Pro Humanitate,” said junior Grace Powell, a sister in Kappa Delta. “Instead of supporting women, they are supporting financial status.”

“As a member of a proud sisterhood of women, we need to make sure that all women’s voices are heard,” said junior Lexi O’Rourke, who is also in Kappa Delta.

The Inter-Fraternity Council also adjourned their meeting today so that members could attend. Additionally, some fraternity-organized day parties (darties) planned for the same time period were postponed so prospective partygoers could attend the protest.

“I think [this situation is] appalling, but the fact that we could come together so quickly was inspiring,” said junior Charlie Bardenheuer, a member of Theta Chi. “There’s no reason why this man should be part of this school.”

As the protest returned to Poteat, students filed into the courtyard and packed the area of assembly until many were left to stand on the street and sidewalk. A cry of “It’s already hot, let’s make it hotter!” — a reference to putting pressure on the administration — rose up from the center of the crowd.

The conclusion of the protest consisted of a short speech, given by Langshur and senior Maya Dalton. 

“There’s still so much to be done here,” Langshur said. “We need to hold Wake Forest accountable.”

“We want responses from our administration,” Dalton said. “Talk about this, talk about it in your classes on Monday, talk about it with your professors, friends, family members, talk about it with everyone. We are not going to be quiet about this because silence is compliance.”

Student Body President Ally Swartzberg expressed support for those in protest.

“Attending class, walking the quad and living in a residence hall without fear are not privileges — they are rights owed to all students enrolled at this University,” Swartzberg’s statement said. “Anything short of protecting these rights for survivors is a failure of the Wake Forest community.”

Organization of the protest

The protest planning moved from Yik Yak to a GroupMe chat around 10:37pm on Friday night, which as of this writing has over 500 members. Members of the chat also drafted a Change.org petition that calls for the Office of Title IX and the Dean of Students to “rectify their decision of jeopardizing the safety of their students.” The petition currently has over 2,900 signatures. 

“Each day known assaulters are permitted on campus provides another opportunity for future sexual violence to occur,” the petition reads. “By enabling these individuals to return, the university is complicit in these traumatic acts. When an act of violence like this occurs, these survivor’s lives are forever changed. Never will they feel comfortable walking alone, night or day, never will they have the same access to safe spaces, and a part of their identity is lost forever.”

Administration’s response

Administrators came to the protest after Residence Life and Housing Dean Matt Clifford, Dean of Students Adam Goldstein and Associate Dean for Student Engagement Tim Wilkinson held a meeting in the Subway in Davis.

While still outside of Subway, Goldstein told the Old Gold & Black, that he supports students’ rights to free expression and that his primary concern is with the safety of all of the students involved. “I understand that the students are exercising their voice about this and that’s important. We want students to be active on their issues.” 

Goldstein continued “And if students want to know if we are aware of what’s occurring. We’re very aware. Are we aware of the pain being expressed? Absolutely, we care very deeply and that’s why we’re out there.”

The Old Gold & Black also received a statement from the university, which reads as follows:

“The University is aware of concerns expressed by students and a protest related to those concerns. Wake Forest is working with students and others to provide care for those most affected and support for our community.”

The statement continues: “Wake Forest takes all concerns about student conduct seriously. Federal law prevents us from discussing information about an individual student.  The University’s student conduct processes take into consideration the safety of our community, while providing a fair process for all students who are involved.”

The Old Gold & Black editorial staff is following this breaking story. More information will be available as we are able to confirm it. Stay tuned to our website and social media. Contact [email protected] with any tips.