Editor’s note: Mar Lee uses they/them/their pronouns
Dear UNL, a group advocating for accountability and transparency from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with regard to sexual assault and sexual misconduct, is now a recognized student organization.
Mar Lee, president of the organization and a senior English and global studies double major, said the RSO status provides assurance that Dear UNL can advocate without fear of retaliation from campus administrators and can better form a community for survivors of these crimes. The group will also look to get more students involved, in the form of both survivors and allies, so the student movement can continue after current members graduate.
“I think just building this as a more sustainable movement, obviously this isn’t just going away, like we’re going to keep pushing for this until we’re seeing the changes we want to see,” Lee said. “I think that having this on-campus group really sets the groundwork and infrastructure for that.”
Lee said they hope to begin having weekly meetings on Tuesdays from 6-7 p.m. starting in March, with a location to be determined. The Dear UNL website will be updated with upcoming events and a meeting schedule, Lee said.
In the meetings, Lee said Dear UNL wants to familiarize both survivors and allies with the Title IX process while also developing a system of support among survivors.
“I feel like creating that system of peer-to-peer relationships and support is really important because of the distrust that has happened between students and the institution and administrators,” Lee said.
Before becoming a RSO, Lee said the group was loosely organized. Now, the group can build a safe space and community for inquiry and education.
Some administrators do not realize what students do and do not know, Lee said, so the administration cannot always bring awareness to students if it does not know what information is needed. By having a group dedicated to bringing awareness to student rights, Lee said Dear UNL hopes to teach survivors how to take back their power.
“The goal is to educate students so they don’t have to have the bad experience first, and then figure out what went wrong,” Lee said. “They can, in the event that they’re having a negative experience, advocate for themselves in that moment.”
Instead of solely identifying a problem and finding answers, Lee said they want to see UNL make changes.
Lee said that until UNL takes action, the problems Dear UNL and survivors are advocating for will remain. Instead of preparing students to report crimes, Lee said they want UNL to look at how to prevent victimization and sexual misconduct in the first place.
“We can prepare people as much as we want to be victims,” Lee said. “But that is not going to stop the predators.”
Lisa Kort-Butler, faculty advisor for the organization and associate professor of sociology, said she considers herself an ally to survivors and wants their voices to be heard first.
“In every moment, I think it’s important that those voices are elevated,” Kort-Butler said. “I think frequently in our system, it’s not historically been the case that survivors' voices were the first voices that we listened to when we talk about sexual assault and sexual misconduct. So, to me, it’s important that survivors of any sort of crime, particularly sexual assault, have the opportunity to be heard and to be seen.”
Kort-Butler said she was introduced to Dear UNL last summer. In talking about what the next steps should be to increase engagement on campus, the group members and Kort-Butler felt compelled to form a RSO to continue drawing attention to the issue of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.
As the faculty adviser, Kort-Butler said she is able to stick to the background for the student-led movement but is able to be a resource for bouncing ideas off of and helping the group lead with their ideas.
People tend to forget the issue when there are many things to focus on, according to Kort-Butler, but groups like Dear UNL keep the focus on finding a solution for survivors and making the process easier for everyone in the future.
“I think it’s important that groups like Dear UNL are able to just keep shining a spotlight on those issues,” she said.
As a united RSO, Lee said Dear UNL can meet with other survivors who have shared their experiences and make them feel like they are not alone. Survivors can hear stories similar to theirs, be there for one another and advocate to get the help they may need.
“We have more support, which means we have more people to do things,” Lee said. “We’re able to also have this sense of community of supporting each other emotionally and having the shared experience that not a lot of people can understand. This RSO is continuing to build that community on campus.”
Survivors know what is best for them, Lee said, and survivors should have the power to decide what to do for themselves instead of having shame toward instances of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.
Kort-Butler said Dear UNL students are passionate about what they advocate for and encourage others to become active in their social networks. She said the organization brings attention to support services, like the Center for Advocacy, Response & Education and Voices of Hope, and supports a community of survivors.
Dear UNL aims to create a community for survivors and continues to advocate for accountability and transparency at UNL. Lee said they know that change comes slowly, and that changing the culture regarding sexual violence is not a small task, but they look forward to the impact Dear UNL can have on campus.
“I am looking forward to seeing the change because I know that it’s happening,” Lee said. “I can see it in the conversations people are having; I can see it in the way people are responding to our group. … People want this; people want to be more informed about these issues, and I’m just excited to see if the people take the change and go off with it.”