Make no mistake, women run “The Hill” at Florida A&M University. Of almost 9,000 students, 66 percent are women.
But despite making up such a large portion of FAMU’s enrollment, women at FAMU experience many challenges and often feel silenced, unprotected and unsupported.
Women face several disparities in society when it comes to finance, health, and safety and all of these differences are seen on FAMU’s campus.
Earlier this semester, freshman psychology major Kimora Williams pointed out to the Student Senate that the campus lacks easy, free access to menstrual health products even though residence halls on campus receive deliveries of free condoms.
Many FAMU students also complain about the need for more student scholarships, especially since Black women carry up to 20% more student debt.
The biggest issue, though, lies in safety and sexism which are still present even with a majority female student body. Specifically, the female student body at FAMU believes that the institution should handle reported sexual assault cases better.
FAMU has a victim advocate program where it offers services such as crisis intervention, emotional support, safety planning, assistance filing for injunctions and other services. However, some students still feel that more can be done for women who find themselves in these unfortunate circumstances.
Ashely Laurent, president of the student organization Warriors Against Rape (WAR), said that while she loves her HBCU, the university needs improvement in supporting women who have been victims of sexual assault.
“In my opinion, they focus more on how the victim could’ve prevented the attack rather than focusing on the attacker,“ Laurent said.
“FAMU needs to take these cases more serious. It seems like they feel like women will get over these things and that the effects won’t be long-lasting, but that is far from the truth. These incidents can scar people for the rest of their lives if they’re not handled properly,” she added.
Kaleigh Wlliams, a sexual assault survivor and junior at FAMU, believes the school should implement more safety features, like more lighting and security portals, and offer more general education to students about sexual assault to better address the issue on campus and make campus a safer space for women.
With concerns about how the school handles these cases, one could ask what FAMU could do to make the female student body feel safer on campus. It’s possible that they could learn some things from the top HBCU in the country, the all-female Spelman College..
According to recent Spelman graduate Andreya Batson, Spelman is proactive when its student report a sexual assault. She said there were several sexual assault incidents that happened on campus, but they were handled swiftly.
“There was a sexual assault that occurred at Spelman by a student that went to Morehouse and it ended up going viral on social media. In the end, we were able to have a student town hall and actually have seen some type of action that came from it,” Batson said.
It is possible that Spelman, a smaller, private institution, b unfits from its size when taking action regarding its students.
“Unfortunately, I know that if we were to go to a PWI or a larger HBCU that probably wouldn’t have been able to happen as quickly at least,” Batson said.
Another Spelman alumna thinks these issues are handled swiftly not only because of the administration, but the women hold their school accountable and make sure the victims get justice.
Spelman graduate Nya Imar Ettrell Syndab believes the key difference is that her alma mater encourages students to speak up against injustice and challenge the status quo.
If women at FAMU have standards that need to be met, FAMU’s female student body must learn to create a strong sense of community and use their voices together to face these challenges.
Lisa Grant-Knight, a 1989 graduate of FAMU, believes that it is important for women to stick together and that using their voice can create change.
“Stand up for what you believe in, help if something isn’t fair or it seems like an injustice, create a dialogue, talk to [the university], just don’t settle,” Knight said. “Work with each other as a team. I think it always takes a village with anything that you do. Have a village of the women that surround you [and] that support you?”
Though Florida A&M University provides resources to make sure that its female students feel heard and receive support, there is always more that can be done to provide more comfort and support to these students to create a more fair and equal environment.