In an effort to support the seven victims who filed the Title IX complaint against the University of Connecticut and countless others who have remained in the shadows, nearly 100 students turned out for a rally Wednesday in Storrs.
Three of the seven students who filed the complaint — which alleges that the university failed to adequately respond when they reported that they were sexually assaulted and harassed — attended the rally, but did not speak.
Using a megaphone, students from various campus groups spoke about what they perceive as a “rape culture” at the school, and called upon the university administrators to start making changes.
Alex Katz, a senior, said the Title IX case offers the school “an amazing opportunity to turn it around.”
“I think we need a system of checks and balances,” Katz said. “There’s not a lot of transparency that goes into how these cases are handled.”
President Susan Herbst remarked last week that “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.”
But many of the students at the rally Wednesday felt differently.
Katz said she feels like the students have little ability to encourage the administration to make changes.
“I personally almost want an apology for victims and survivors of sexual assault based on how the administration handled [this],” Katz said. “By saying we have all these things and rape culture doesn’t happen here, you’re pretty much making it worse because it makes it very hard for people to come forward.”
Stephanie Reitz, a spokeswoman for the university, said Wednesday that UConn “fully supports and admires our students’ commitment to talk openly about these very important topics.
“We care deeply about our students. We are listening. And we’re committed to a campus community that is free from all forms of violence, harassment, exploitation, and intimidation,” Reitz added.
Brittnie Carrier, the student who organized Wednesday’s rally, said that just because the school has a female president and a female police chief doesn’t mean “sexism is over.”
“The dialogue around our culture needs serious revamping” Carrier said. “It’s not good enough to say women shouldn’t be assaulted. We need to think about what goes into this culture of violence: structural powers, hypermasculinity, athletic privilege, the gendering of academics, and the visibility of specific academics. We’re Huskies too. It’s time we are heard.”
Rep. Gregg Haddad, of Mansfield, was there to listen.
He said was impressed with the respect each of the students had for the other students while they were speaking.
The legislature’s Public Safety and Higher Education Committees will hold an informational hearing on the issue before December. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have called for hearings on the issue.
When one in four young women are at risk of being raped or sexually assaulted during their college years “it’s hard not to see this as an epidemic,” Haddad said.
He said the legislature can play a role. In 2012, the General Assembly passed a law requiring both private and public institutions to “adopt and disclose one or more policies on sexual assault and intimate partner violence.”
Haddad said he has spoken with Kylie Angell, one of the seven students involved in the Title IX complaint. Angell was the one who saw her perpetrator expelled only to see him return to campus two weeks after his expulsion. She was not informed he was back on campus and she was unaware of the appeals process the student used to get reinstated.
“The first punishment is given out by a panel of folks. The appeals process is a single person,” Haddad said. “That should really be changed.”
He said that’s the kind of thing UConn could do on it’s own to strengthen the process and give victims a little more faith in it.