About 30 Russell Sage students, half of them topless, held a protest this afternoon in support of a student who was confronted by security while sunbathing topless Sunday. A campus officer asked if Cedar Brock was male or female, then told the student, who identifies as androgynous, to put on a shirt. Troy Police also responded briefly.
The protest was held at Sage Park on campus, where Brock had been sunbathing.
“It means support, it means it’s 2016 and it’s time for change,” Brock, 22, said of Wednesday’s rally.
Brock initially refused the security officer’s request to cover up, but ultimately complied.
“I really do want change,” Brock said. “The law is supposed to protect us and I didn’t feel protected on Sunday.”
Sunday’s incident in the park happened before a student government meeting. During the meeting the students brainstormed what to do next. Emily Taylor, 19, hatched the plan for today’s protest.
“I just got frustrated about how women are treated on this campus and how breasts are treated all over the world,” Taylor said. “Everyone has breasts — men have breasts.”
Taylor hopes to effect change on the small scale starting with the Russell Sage campus.
“This should be normalized,” she said of the topless women around her. “The only issue is the old men staring and sexualizing me.”
While male students joined in the topless protest, there were also older men obviously there to watch, many with small digital cameras. Protesters painted their nipples and used nipple covers in the fresh air. The onlookers didn’t bother the students enough to get them to shy away from their cause.
“I have the support of my deans, the support of my professors and the support of my friends. That’s all I need,” Taylor said.
The 30 students — men and women alike — gathered at the park toting signs that read “No Hate in My State” among other sayings.
“What happened to Cedar — as a Sage community you realize when something isn’t right,” said Kaleigh Swift, a 21-year-old student at the college.
Swift and friend Talia Lusterman, 21, said they felt compelled to attend the topless event in the park to support a fellow classmate, even though they did not know Cedar personally.
“It being a women’s college contributes to it being very liberal,” said Lusterman. “Being that it’s a women’s college we have to fight for our rights more.”
Lusterman said when her mother heard she was going topless she was concerned, but not for the assumed reason. “Use sunscreen,” her mother texted.
Lusterman said she was proud of her mother being so understanding and appreciated the vote of support.
“Just because [you’re] feminist doesn’t mean you should ignore your health,” her mother warned as she reminded her daughter that it would be hard to work with “sunburned boobies.”
Many of the students said they wondered what their mothers would think, hoping for the best as they unfastened their bras.
For student Stephen McCauley, one of about six male Sage students and a friend of Brock’s, the event was about equality.
“Why not promote the message of body positivity and not sexualizing breasts,” he said.
Two Russell Sage administrators said they were proud of the students taking a stand for each other.
“I think it’s great, this is what we educate our students to do. This is a good demonstration of them empowering themselves,” said Deb Lawrence, academic dean of the college. “I’m really heartened to see our students rally around a fellow student in support.”
The administration was happy that the students included them in plans for the protest so they could work together to respond to their needs, according to Mike Baumgardner, Russell Sage dean of students.
“In my years here we haven’t seen students take a stand like this,” he said. “It’s also nice to see how they came in as first-year students, shy, to now helping to lead change.”
Brock hopes that change will come in the form of an updated trans policy, an update to the college application forgoing the traditional male or female gender boxes, and gender-neutral bathrooms.
In this instance Brock was happy with the response from the College.
“Everyone acted very quickly,” Brock said. “I could not ask for better support.”