Ambient background music and speeches were muffled by protestors at the Mathewson Gateway Project College of Business building groundbreaking on Thursday. Students were protesting the recent case filed by Feifei Fan, University of Nevada, Reno engineering professor, against the UNR for alleged sexual abuse from from Yanyao Jiang, fellow mechanical engineering professor, and pitfalls within Title IX.
Protestors arrived slightly before the scheduled start of the event at 3 p.m., clad with signs with sentiments written on them in support of Fan and condemning the university. They stood at the corner of Virginia Street and Ninth Street with their pickets reading “Justice for Fei Fei,” “Reform Title IX,” amongst others.
Previously, a group of roughly 20 students from the University met on Oct. 9 to discuss the recent allegations filed against the University
The students organizing the cause gave a summary of the case allegations in the University case and added details of the specific allegations filed against the mechanical engineering professor Yanyao Jiang in this suit and the private suit that got dismissed on Sept. 9.
This gathering discussed wanting to focus on fundraisers for Fan, media attention, walk-outs and protests against the university. However, the students also said they don’t want anyone to compromise their academics for protests or walkouts.
“One petition, one protest, that’s not really going to do anything. They want us to feel exhausted and to stop, right? Cause then we’ll just go back to normal life and everything will get brushed under the rug,” Fiorina Chau, one of the students at the meeting said. “This is something that we have to be very consistent in and we have to persevere to bring change.”
The group planned this protest during the meeting, organizing on public streets around the new business building unveiling event.
People of prestige were at the event, to witness the groundbreaking and the protest, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto D-NV; Ed Lawson, City of Sparks mayor; Byron Brooks, chair of the Nevada System of Higher Education; Gregory Mosier, dean of the College of Business; Stacie Mathewson, donor for the Mathewson Gateway Project, and many faculty, staff and administrators.
Brian Sandoval, UNR president, stood on the corner amongst the protesting crowd answering questions from media and students, a first since the lawsuit broke.
“There won’t be any effort to hide anything,” Sandoval said. “We’re committed to work with all of you to make the Title IX office work for all of you and as I said we have a new leader and I’m happy to sit down as often as you like and talk to you … I am aware that Title IX needs some work.”
The Nevada Sagebrush recently published a story regarding the 2021 lawsuit Fan filed against Jiang directly, to which Sandoval said he had no prior knowledge.
“I’m not familiar with that litigation,” Sandoval said. “I haven’t seen the complaint, so I apologize.”
About 50-feet south, over 100 students, faculty and staff dressed in business casual and mingled with each other anticipating the event, with some turning their heads to the protestors.
The students became more vocal at the top of the event at around 3:10 p.m., starting with chanting “sexual violence has got to” or repeating Fan’s name to bring awareness to her case. Additionally, a group of around 10 protestors migrated to the left of the stage and continued to chant. The crowd took even more notice of this event.
The Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno had representatives from the senate and the executive branch standing with the protestors during their initial chants.
“I think it’s ASUN’s responsibility to be here for our people. Especially us, from minority backgrounds. We think it’s important that we don’t get silenced, or let systematic pressure bring us down,” Boris Guerrera, the president of the ASUN said. “But ASUN is here to support … We put out a statement supporting people that go through this. Just here supporting our students.”
Aween Ali, senator for the College of Engineering, also said she would work with fellow engineering senators and the dean of the College of Engineering on an action plan to help students and ensure their education is not infringed on.
“I’d say this as representatives for the College of Engineering and [its] students, that this is unacceptable. We can’t let this go by,” Ali. “I appreciate that people are standing up and protesting … They shouldn’t be feeling uncomfortable. They shouldn’t be feeling unsafe in the classroom, in a lecture hall, in office hours even.”
Around thirty minutes before speeches commenced, a group of roughly 10 students migrated to the left of the stage, continuing the same chants and sentiments. The crowd took notice, with many looking at the protestors and pointing. The band and cheerleaders rushed into the event soon after, mixing the sounds of tubas, pom-poms and traditional protesting chants.
Evan Robinson, the advocacy director of the ASUN was one of the members within the crowd that also attended the student gathering on Oct. 10. He was one of the organizers helping out with this initiative, claiming to the senate body that he worked for about “14 hours” helping out with the work behind this protest and stance.
“Students are here organizing today because we want to see justice for Doctor Feifei Fan, who has alleged sexual assault … against Dr. Jiang,” Robinson said. “We would like to see him removed from UNR.”
Robinson said the protestors also wanted other change within the university including the release of Title IX files back to victims, a fund set up for victims trying to fight their cases and legal battles, a formal apology from Sandoval’s office to the faculty, students, and recommitting to investigating Title IX and the mechanical engineering department, even if this professor is dismissed. Robinson said they would also like to see a partnership with ASUN and the university, working with students in order to remedy this issue.
“At the end of the day, we’re paying for this education. We deserve an equitable education,” Robinson said. “Brian Sandoval, please, please listen to your student body when they are demanding and advocating for themselve, and advocating for … your faculty, that are too afraid to speak up for themselves because of the toxic rape culture that you have permitted at the University.”
Around the time speeches started, the entire group of protestors migrated to behind the stage, holding signs and chanting, flooding the view for onlookers.
Vic Redding, former vice president of administration and finance, current project manager for the new business building and the master of ceremonies, started speaking, but the chants did not end for the entirety of the opening statements. Students continued with their chanting, until the land acknowledgment and blessing from an indigenous elder and stayed silent for the rest of the ceremony.
Sandoval followed and acknowledged the protestors in his remarks, before giving pleasantries to the crowd for attending.
“I’m proud of our students and this is what democracy looks like,” said Sandoval. “I pledge to work with all of you and thank you for being here.
The rest of the speeches commenced, with many saying how happy they are about the new business building, sharing in their envy for the upcoming students and talking about how hard they all worked on the project. But still, the protestors stood with signs in hand for the entirety of speeches.
Lissette, a senior student, spoke about her own experience with Title IX at the university, choosing not to reveal her last name. She used to be a resident assistant for the university and said they always teach the RA’s about Title IX policies and resources. However, residents she knows have gone through their office and they did “nothing.”
“I’ve personally gone through with Title IX and they have done nothing. All they do is give you extensions on assignments and then they call it a day,” Lissette said. “But when it comes to actually giving justice and going through with your abuser, absolutely nothing … and I know I’m not alone in this story.”
Lissette said she had a friend who left the university because of the Title IX office doing absolutely nothing with her case.
“The university is full of garbage,” Lissette said, “I hope [the lawsuit] does enact change, because [then] the university will be losing money and [it will] hit it where it hurts … I hope [Fan] does get justice and she wins her case.”
The main event finally arrived, the groundbreaking, at around 4:30 p.m. and the protestors disseminated from behind the stage. As the administrators and faculty dug their shovels into the ground, fireworks erupted into the air and the chanting began again. The protestors migrated back to the corner of Virginia Street and Ninth Ave, continuing similar shouts from before.
The protest ended at around 5 p.m. Students and protestors have vowed to continue the fight for Fan via social media, and will continue to organize protests and petitions.