By Olivia Kearney
Content Warning: This story contains references to sexual harrassment.
Once a week, nearly every week of the 2018 fall quarter, a small band of students stood around Fisher Fountain, holding cardboard signs and battling through harrowing weather conditions to make a call-to-arms. Their target audience, Western’s administration, needed to take a stand on the prevalent cases of sexual assault and harassment on campus.
They’ve recently found a new ally in the Urban Planning club.
Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault, or SASHA, was started as a way to continue actions that were being taken within the Human Services Professionals and Community Systems 404 class by students Hannah Peters and Nicole Wood. In the class, research topics are passed down from cohort to cohort in order for students to do continuous advocacy and organizing. Wood and Peters picked the topic of sexual assault on campus.
The two found that a lot of people wanted to continue organizing and advocating about sexual assault after the quarter ended, so SASHA was born.
“SASHA came out as way for people to get involved with taking some continued action against that issue,” Wood said.
One such conversation that SASHA has gotten the student body to rally over is that of Paul Stangl, an Urban Planning and Sustainable Development professor who was found to have harassed two teaching assistants on a class trip in 2016. Stangl ultimately was barred from teaching a field course again until summer quarter of 2020.
Former Urban Planning major Kai Bjarke decided to join SASHA when they heard about the Stangl case from Wood. Bjarke was coincidentally taking a class taught by Stangl at the time and finally put the name and face together.
Eventually, Bjarke decided to transfer to the University of Washington after they worried they would make enemies with Urban Planning professors who supported Stangl.
“The administration is allowing [Stangl] to just continue teaching uninhibited, and I don’t even have words for it,” Bjarke said.
According to Peters, she and a small group of students who had organized over the summer interrupted the Urban Planning orientation at the beginning of the year and demanded action be taken by faculty to take a position on Stangl’s employment.
Through this interaction, Peters made connections with people in the Western Urban Planners who ended up joining SASHA. She said the two groups have since kept in correspondence to make sure students from the Urban Planning program feel supported.
According to Bjarke, Stangl is currently the only professor teaching the intro course in the major, meaning every Urban Planning major must take a class with him.
On Classfinder, the last time a professor other than Stangl taught the Intro to Urban Planning course at Western was winter of 2018. He will be teaching the course for spring 2019.
Originally, SASHA held weekly accountability vigils in Red Square at the beginning of fall quarter in which they stood with signs that commented on various issues each week. One week, the club focused their efforts on Stangl with signs that read: “WWU What Are You Doing About Paul Stangl?” and “Where Is The Accountability for Paul Stangl?”
“People would come up and ask, ‘Oh, is this the guy in the chemistry department who sexually harassed people, or is this the guy in the theatre department who sexually harassed people?’ Which was really unfortunate having to be the first people to break the news about this guy, and also to learn that there’s very many more,” Bjarke said about the vigils.
According to Bjarke, SASHA is trying to move away from specifically speaking out about Stangl.
“Clearly so many other professors that the university is pushing through the sanctioning process the exact same way… they just get a slap on the wrist,” Bjarke said.
SASHA aims to partner with other clubs and organizations moving forward to unite student voices in the quest for change within the administration’s actions regarding sexual assault on Western’s campus, according to Peters.
“[The university admin’s] words mean nothing if there is no action that comes after it. You can’t just keep emailing ‘sorry this happened.’ Own up to it and then change your behaviors,” Peters said.
SASHA’s meetings are open to anyone and are held in Miller 154 at 6 p.m. every Thursday.