Why College Grads Are Wearing Red Tape at Commencements Nationwide

Protesting on ceremonious days to make a bold statement.

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In 1999, Columbia University students wore red tape on their wrists and book bags to protest their school’s poor policies and handling of sexual assault cases. Now, Columbia graduates along with seniors from other prestigious institutions nationwide, are bringing back the red tape to voice their disapproval of this same pressing problem. They’re injecting politics into a ceremony usually filled with pomp—their commencements.

In May, No Red Tape, a Columbia student organization pushing for better management of sexual assault cases at their university, wrote an email to graduating seniors encouraging them to take part in the protest:

As you may know, this semester, students have demanded that the University take several important steps to reform a woefully inadequate set of services, policies, and procedures dealing with sexual violence that students face on campus.

Although we have been promised some reforms, there has been no significant change to our level of community safety, to the pain and trauma survivors must endure when they see their perpetrators on campus, to the rape culture that pervades this school.

Organizers encouraged grads to wear red tape on the caps at their commencements, saying it will send a public message to the university’s overseers “that you do not accept your degree lightly, that you understand the culture that they have been complicit in perpetuating, and that you will not stand for it.”

Though there haven’t been estimates of how many graduates participated in the protest, red taped caps were clearly visible in numerous Instagram and Twitter pics of the commencement: Soon after No Red Tape began organizing, hundreds students at Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth, and most recently, Stanford, also donned red tape on their caps at graduation, some even spelling out “IX” to make the connection with the federal Title IX law, which requires universities to address sexual discrimination.

“Even as graduates of this institution, everyone has a responsibility to continue to fight for a safe Columbia,” Zoe Ridolfi-Starr told ThinkProgress. “Graduation is an important day for people, and I think some felt like this day is sacred and should be free from protest. But I actually think that it becomes even more important on special days, and on ceremonious days, to continue to fight for what we know to be right. It’s important that we do it even when it’s hard.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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