Herbst Defends University Policies
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 12:10
In response to allegations made Monday that the university has not been doing enough to prevent and respond to sexual violence, President Susan Herbst told the Board of Trustees in a statement during their Wednesday meeting, “I completely reject the notion that UConn somehow doesn’t care about these all-important issues, because nothing could be further from the truth.”
Herbst’s statement defended university policies and procedures, mentioning several resources the university provides to both prevent sexual harassment and assault and assist victims of these crimes. Among them, mandatory training for incoming students and staff to help recognize incidents, a Presidential Task Force promoting civility, and a pilot “Men Can Stop Rape” program are intended to ensure that all members of the university community are aware of how to recognize and react to sexual harassment and violence.
Responding to an allegation made by former student Kylie Angell that her assailant was expelled, then reinstated without her knowledge, Herbst said, “There are circumstances under which the university should notify a student that another student – who may have been suspended or expelled from campus – will be returning, if they are returning. It is my understanding that this notification did not take place in a case three years ago, and it should have. That process has been corrected.”
Following her statement, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Lawrence McHugh said to Herbst, “You have our full support.”
Asked if she took the allegations personally, Herbst said her experience with issues of sexual assault and harassment throughout her career and her position as a female leader made her feel very strongly about providing the best support for victims. “There is not a single issue I have heard raised this week that I do not have some experience with,” she said, noting that many individuals combating these issues on campus “are also dedicated female leaders of UConn.”
Students involved in the lawsuit have claimed that members of the police force made rude or derogatory statements towards them. Police Chief Barbara O’Connor said that conversations between police and potential victims were not recorded unless it was an interrogation situation where charges had been filed, which makes charges of this nature difficult to investigate, especially after a time lapse. People can bring an issue to the attention of the police department through a citizens’ complain process, which may prompt an internal investigation.
O’Connor reiterated that the police force is committed to students’ safety on campus, but her statement took on a defensive tone when she said, “We never want to have an adversarial process with the students, and that’s sort of what this lawsuit feels like.”
Some UConn students who were in attendance for Herbst’s statement and the question and answer session felt that the statement was more image that substance.
“I think her statements were a nice way to cover things up and not talk about things,” said Jose Figueroa, a 7th-semester women’s gender and sexuality studies major. “She questioned the motives of the people who filed the complaint, so if you’re trying to work through this issue and trying to make the campus safer, why even bring it up in the first place?”
Caryl Nuñez, a graduate student in political science and women’s gender studies, agreed, saying “The way that President Herbst is presenting her position is very much about defending UConn.” Nuñez said Herbst shouldn’t use her identity as a woman to claim a personal stake in the issue then attack the claims made by the students in the complaint.
Figueroa and Monisha Rao, a 7th-semester journalism and women’s studies major, facilitate a group called Greeks Against Sexual Assault. Asked if she feels safe on campus, Rao said, “I carry pepper spray with me everywhere I walk.”
Students were frustrated at what they felt was a lack of opportunity to be heard by the administration. “I care about these issues and I really, really want to make this campus a safer place, and take action against those who are assaulting other people […] and seeing the administration not listen to their students and really not take a stand and cover up behind these legal conversations and this task force that doesn’t really address the issues, it’s really disheartening and it makes me disgusted at my university,” said Figueroa.