In early April, a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority at the University of Utah posted a link to a news story in a private Facebook group. The article shared how Brigham Young University student Madi Barney was accused of violating her school's honor code after she told police she was raped.
Barney had decided to go public about how BYU, a private university owned by the Mormon church, refused to back down after threatening to punish her in connection with her alleged sexual assault. She filed a federal complaint against the school, claiming that BYU's handling of her case violated the gender equity law Title IX. Nearly 114,000 people signed a petition in support of Barney.
"Madi's story certainly hit close to home to a lot of us," said Lauren Adams, a member of Alpha Chi Omega. She said the women in her sorority often talk about how "to lift other women up and help empower those around us." They've seen their sisters hurt by sexual assault, and Adams said their natural response was to find a way to support Barney.
Alpha Chi Omega was already engaged in philanthropy related to sexual violence, but the women wanted to do something more. So they decided to send Barney a care package at the beginning of May, tossing in things like spa masks, candy and nail polish.
"For the most part, we just tried to include things that we would like in her situation," Adams explained.
The women even gave Barney a customized sorority paddle -- a prominent symbol of Greek life -- because BYU doesn't have fraternities or sororities. "To us, the paddle that we crafted for her was very special, because we were sure she had never received one before," Adams said. "We thought it was representative of us as women standing together regardless of our affiliations. BYU and the University of Utah have some pretty die-hard sports rivalries, but we wanted her to know that we stand with her in solidarity through this."
"One of the most helpful things you can do for a sexual assault survivor is believe them," Adams said.
Barney said the care package meant a lot.
"It was so surreal to have these tangible things from real people that cared -- letters, self-care stuff, candy," Barney said. "It was really meaningful and I’m super grateful."
She also agreed with Adams that believing an assault victim's story is the most important act of all. "They are totally right. Belief is the hugest thing, and it’s ridiculous that in our society you have to even say that. Belief should be automatic -- it takes a ton of courage and pain to come out and talk about a rape or sexual assault."
Since Barney came forward about her case, other women have spoken out as well. And BYU is now promising to review how it handles sexual assault cases and honor code charges against students who report being raped. Barney, however, plans to transfer to another school.