More than half of sexual assaults among college students occur in the fall. Resources, survivor stories and investigation into what’s being done to protect those at risk in the Pittsburgh area. Explore the series.

Days after a female student at the University of Pittsburgh was sexually assaulted in a stairwell in the Cathedral of Learning, about 100 students attended a protest outside the building to condemn the attack and call on Pitt to improve student safety.

Late Monday afternoon, an unknown college-age man pushed the student, held her against a wall and sexually assaulted her, according to a crime alert from the university. The attack was reported to campus police on Wednesday. 

“That is completely unbelievable, terrifying, horrifying in every way. This is a very immediate threat to our safety,” said Hope Karnes, a sophomore and president of the university’s chapter of Take Back The Night, in an interview. “I feel scared. If someone can get assaulted in a stairway at 4 p.m., I don’t know.” 

“I was just really upset because you know, it’s during class time when we should feel most safe,” said student Angie Escobar. “We’re just here for our education. And we shouldn’t have to worry about getting raped.”

An anonymous Pitt student created a Change.org petition on Thursday with details about the peaceful protest. The petition calls on the university to generally restrict public access to university buildings and require university I.D. for entrance; to leave stairwell doors open; to monitor security cameras regularly; and to expel students for all rape attempts. As of Friday afternoon, the petition had received nearly 6,000 signatures. 

Several students on Friday said they’d like to see increased security on Pitt’s campus. Katherine Lowell, a pharmacy student who attended the protest, said she’d like the university to implement swipe I.D. access to university buildings and keep records of the people who enter.

During the protest, another student expressed concern over the security of on-campus buildings, according to a video by The Pitt News.

“I see random adults in Cathy all day, and I can’t tell you a single one of their names. I don’t know what they’re doing here or why they’re here. I don’t care about the tours,” the student said, using the common student nickname for the Cathedral, a frequent stop for visitors to the city. “There is no reason why Pitt should not be protecting their students, and that is why we are here today, and that is what Pitt needs to listen to.”

About 100 students attended a protest Friday outside the Cathedral of Learning on Pitt’s campus to condemn an attack on a female student in a stairwell of the building and call on Pitt to improve student safety. (Photos by Emma Folts/PublicSource)

Chuck Finder, a spokesperson for Pitt, said that the university has increased the presence and patrols of police and security at the Cathedral and has stationed officers with its Community Programs Unit on site. The unit will be able to speak with students, faculty and staff and answer questions, according to an email to the Pitt community from Ted Fritz, vice chancellor of public safety and emergency management.

Fritz said in the email that the university has security measures in place in all campus buildings, including 1,000 closed circuit cameras on the Pittsburgh campus. 

There are no updates in the investigation at this time, Finder said. 

In an email to Pitt students and their families, Dean of Students Carla Panzella pledged a town hall meeting, coordinated with the Student Government Board, to solicit concerns and get feedback on the university’s response to such incidents.

Protesters gathered in the center of the Cathedral’s first floor shortly after 3 p.m., but campus police later told them that they could face university sanctions if they did not leave the area by 3:45 p.m., according to The Pitt News.

Later in the afternoon, the university marching band began to perform outside of the Cathedral for what appeared to be a Homecoming celebration. Student protesters remained, shouting “support survivors!” and chanting “keep campus safe!” over and in between the songs. 

Jun Kyoung Kim, a student who signed the petition, said that the university’s lack of action in response to the sexual assault, along with its continuation of Homecoming celebrations, makes her upset and angry. Escobar said it shows that Pitt “is more into their festivities than into protecting the students.”

The University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning is lit up with fireworks on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in Oakland. The celebration came hours after a protest was held outside on the lawn for higher safety measures for students, spurred by the sexual assault of a student in the building days earlier. (Photo by Lilly Kubit/PublicSource)

“There should not be a celebration where someone was raped!” sophomore Alea Gentile shouted as the performance continued. 

Gentile, who is a survivor of sexual assault, also called on Pitt to improve the way it supports survivors, specifically referencing the Title IX process, disability resources and therapy services. 

“Everyone needs to be aware. They should feel uncomfortable. They should feel called out. And they should make a change, because that’s all we want,” she said. “This can’t keep happening.”

She added: “I just want to say to the victim that you can see how much we all care. We’re all angry, we’re all upset. We all know exactly what you’re going through and we are here for you no matter what.”

This post has been updated with additional information from The Pitt News.

Emma Folts covers higher education at PublicSource, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at emma@publicsource.org.

Explore this series

The Red Zone

More than half of sexual assaults among college students occur in the fall. Resources, survivor stories and investigation into what’s being done to protect those at risk in the Pittsburgh area.

Do you feel more informed?

Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.

Emma is a higher education reporter for PublicSource. In her role, she collaborates with Open Campus, a nonprofit newsroom focused on bolstering higher education coverage in local communities. Emma is...