‘We will not stop’: Students of Nanjing University protest school’s handling of sexual harassment case

Society & Culture

At one of China’s leading universities, students are finding ways to protest inaction against sexual harassment despite the authorities trying to shut them down.

Image from Weibo

Over the past week, a prestigious college in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing has been embroiled in a conflict between a group of students and the university administration over sexual misconduct by a male student. Although school officials promised transparency and serious consideration of expelling the perpetrator in their talks with student protesters, public demonstrations of outrage and defiance were overtly suppressed by school authorities.  

The protests were over a string of sexual harassment incidents at Nanjing University (NJU), where a male student, surnamed Liu, was accused by multiple women of spying on them as they used restrooms on campus. The allegations have been making the rounds on the school’s internal websites, mainly online discussion boards, since October, but it wasn’t until earlier this month — when a NJU student took to social media to air her frustrations — that the problem received public attention. 

In the post, the author chronicled how the complaints against the peeping Tom piled up in a short amount of time, which eventually led to him being caught by police and fined 400 yuan ($62) for his behavior. But despite fervent calls for Liu’s expulsion, the school, she said, refused to punish him and told the victims to move on from the unpleasant experience. 

“Hello, can you please tell me when you are going to make this creep accountable?” the person wrote (in Chinese) in a message directed at the university on Weibo. “As a female student at NJU, I don’t want to live a life where I need to be worried about being photographed when using the bathroom.”

Image from Weibo

Her post quickly blew up and received an outpouring of support from social media users. Using hashtags to express their solidarity, observers demanded the university investigate the case thoroughly and give Liu proper punishment. 

So far, the school has yet to make any public statements regarding the controversy. But a slew of social media posts by NJU students suggested that some student leaders were invited to have private conversations with university authorities in the past few days. After listening to their requests, the school decided to put Liu on a one-year probation and allowed him to continue his studies. While the outcome was far from satisfactory for some protesters, who contended that his presence would make the campus unsafe and argued that NJU should have a blanket policy of expulsion for all students found guilty of sexual misconduct, others took solace in the school’s promises to bolster campus security and be transparent with them, leaving room for further negotiations and potentially harsher penalties for Liu when the investigation wraps up.

Outside these talks, though, the university administration took a hard line against demonstrations of any size and prohibited students from organizing protests. Unable to rally, angry students had to take a less provocative approach to raise awareness around the issue. On the evening of October 6, for example, they turned an on-campus public bulletin board into a powerful installation of protest posters. “We will not stop,” a poster wrote. Another one asked: “Our voices were ignored. Our requests were denied. Who are you protecting? What are you encouraging? What are you suppressing? What are you afraid of?”

The next morning, the board was wiped clean by the school’s security staff. But one of the messages survived: On a sanitary pad, someone wrote with a red crayon “Is it pretty?”

Image from Weibo