(UPDATED 5:30 p.m.) University of Connecticut students spoke out against what they perceive as a campus rape culture Wednesday, saying it is time for the university’s administration and police department to stop sweeping the issue of sexual assault under the rug.
The students expressed their concerns following comments from UConn President Susan Herbst after Wednesday’s Board of Trustees meeting. Herbst called the allegations made by the seven women who filed a Title IX complaint earlier this week “astonishingly misguided.”
The women alleged that the university’s responses to their sexual assault cases on campus were inadequate.
“In the way President Herbst is presenting her position, it’s very much about defending UConn,” Caryl Nuñez, a third-year graduate student, said.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Herbst said “the suggestion that the University of Connecticut, as an institution, would somehow be indifferent to, or dismissive of, any report of sexual assault is astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.” Herbst also said she is “stunned” she even has to make that remark.
Herbst denied most of the allegations the university is facing from the current and former students, but she did say it will now be notifying students when another student, who may have been suspended or expelled from campus, will be returning to campus.
Kylie Angell, one of the seven women who filed the Title IX complaint, spoke at a press conference Monday about being raped. She said that the student perpetrator was expelled but then returned and heckled her in a dining hall two weeks later. Angell said she was never notified that the perpetrator had been allowed to be back on campus after he filed an appeal.
“I was told that the UConn employee assigned to notify me that the rapist was back on campus had forgotten to do so,” Angell said.
While students like Nuñez took notice of Herbst’s defensiveness, senior Monisha Rao, who is majoring in women’s studies and co-facilitates a campus group called “Greeks Against Sexual Assault,” was most bothered by one comment in particular from Herbst.
“There will unfortunately be assaults on this campus and others,” Herbst said. “No president or police chief will prevent them all, and should never, ever be so naïve to think so.”
Herbst’s comment raised red flags for Rao, who said that the UConn community should not have to accept the fact that sexual assault is bound to happen on college campuses.
Rao said that this is a dangerous expectation, as she feels it leads the administration and police to believe that it does not matter how they deal with cases of sexual assault, because it is going to happen regardless.
Rao says she carries pepper spray on her at all times because of her concern with the university’s policies regarding assault.
However, Herbst explained in her address Wednesday that the university has many programs and initiatives in place to address sexual violence and assaults on campus.
“This is a university that is devoting extraordinary resources toward preventing sexual violence in all its forms,” Herbst said. “I completely reject the notion that UConn somehow doesn’t care about these all-important issues, because nothing could be further from the truth.”
Some of the programs Herbst mentioned are training programs that teach employees and students to assist in the prevention of sexual assault by recognizing and reporting cases. There also is a task force and a website dedicated to the issue.
Rao does not think that these programs are enough.
“I think a lot of the programming we have is great,” Rao said. “But a lot of (the programs) are focused more on the victim . . . instead of actually targeting the perpetrators. I think that’s the biggest problem.”
Along with further educating students about the meaning of consent, Rao would like to see the administration take strides to diminish what the complainants describe as the “rape culture” on campus, which is further branded by students’ use of the term “rape trail” for a paved path that runs through a wooded area near one of the high-rise dorms. University officials say the trail has lights, security cameras, and emergency call boxes.
The “rape trail” became a hot topic in the past week after the Huffington Post published an article reporting that students loudly cheered a rap duo after one of them mentioned the trail during a performance on campus.
“I was horrified when UConn was cheering for that term,” Rao said. “Rape is not a joke, sexual assault is not a joke, and it’s not something that should be taken lightly.”