Task force slow to enact change
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 14, 2014 00:02
In a recent email to the University of Connecticut community, President Susan Herbst announced changes she plans to make based on suggestions from the Task Force for Civility and Campus Culture — but the student body president suggested the changes aren’t coming quickly enough.
The Feb. 7 email said that the task force was formed last summer to formulate “specific recommendations that are both effective and practical, which the university may implement to enhance and support a culture of civility and respect on its campuses.” It was formed after a group of UConn students lodged a federal complaint and initiated a lawsuit against the university, claiming it failed to protect them when they were sexually assaulted.
Suggestions from the task force included classes on healthy relationships, educational programs on sexual violence prevention and self-defense, and an effort to change the nickname sometimes used to describe the path from campus to Celeron Square Apartments — presently known as “the rape trail.”
None of the suggested programs have been implemented, and no start date has been mentioned. However, the email states that, “implementing these recommendations will begin immediately.”
According to Undergraduate Student Government President Edward Courchaine, who is a member of the task force, none of the members know exactly when these programs will take effect — even though they were announced as one of Herbst’s top priorities.
“When something is listed as ‘this will take place immediately’ it means ‘we’ll get around to it,’” Courchaine said.
In his speech to the USG Senate on Wednesday, Courchaine added that Herbst has not shown sufficient leadership on the task force and that no significant timeline or urgency has been placed on implementing the suggested programs.
Courchaine emphasized the need for a definitive start or a symbolic kick-off that was not present in the message put out to the UConn community.
“If UConn is going to change its culture, it needs to be an urgent problem,” he said.
In a press release accompanying the report, Herbst said, “Our goal is to remain at the forefront of the battle against sexual assault and harassment by doing all we can to mirror the best practices nationally and to be a leader in the field.”
Herbst also said that the policies, procedures and resources will be constantly reviewed and changed to ensure that the university is using the best strategies to prevent sexual violence and to provide services to victims.
But Courchaine said that many participants felt that what the university was doing on issues of sexual assault and discrimination “wasn’t nearly sufficient.”
The task force convened for the first time in September and held weekly meetings until December to discuss potential programs to support its goal. Courchaine said they held focus groups, conducted surveys and “town hall-style” meetings for students and faculty members to gauge the community’s perception of campus culture.
In its report to Herbst, the task force said that while UConn has many resources regarding sexual assault, many students were not aware of them or could not readily access them.
Because of these issues, many recommendations put forward by the task force focus on coordinating related activities and streamlining the process for dealing with sexual violence issues. “A lot of the recommendations we made were things specifically from the mouths of students and faculty members on campus,” Courchaine said.