As we are all well aware, recently there has been a major onslaught of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against many prominent celebrities and politicians. What seemed to start with the scandal regarding Harvey Weinstein quickly escalated to many other people being empowered and coming forward to share their own stories of mistreatment. At this point, it is almost hard to be surprised when a new accusation is made or story is uncovered, because the list of both victims and perpetrators made public seems to increase everyday.
In light of all of this, President Susan Herbst released an email on November 15 reminding students of the sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination policies in place at UConn. This email was a joint effort between President Herbst and Elizabeth Conklin who is the Associate Vice President of the Office of Institutional Equity, Title IX Coordinator, and Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator of the university.
The email, while not directly addressing any claims against specific people recently in the media, was issued to reinforce the standards that UConn holds for its students and faculty and to remind us of the importance that these policies hold. While many vile acts have been brought to light currently, President Herbst took the opportunity to “reiterate our shared responsibility at UConn to maintain inclusive and safe work and learning environments free from such acts.” The email also reminded students and faculty of the resources at their disposal in the event that any such acts are experienced within the university.
This email undoubtedly carries an important message during these uncertain times, where many people are unsure of how to respond to these allegations of sexual misconduct and assault. However, the most important message that the university can provide for us is all dependent on how they respond if these types of cases appear within the university. Many schools and universities are notorious for not dealing with sexual misconduct incidences in an appropriate manner, and each year there is criticism across the country from people who demand change from these universities. In reinforcing the seriousness of these types of problems through this email, UConn is holding itself to a high standard and thus must follow through on any and all Title IX cases that may arise.
Talking about taking action and actually taking action are two very different things when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment and assault on college campuses. As we have seen in the media lately, this is a global issue that reaches far beyond the walls of this institution. If we want to do better for the students at this university now and in the future, we must do more than write emails and release statements when these issues come to light, and instill the idea that these behaviors are never okay. We must stand by our policies and standards all the time, not just when the topic is relevant, to ensure that these heinous acts do not have a future in our school or country.