A part-time lecturer at Plymouth State University, who was expelled from the University of Connecticut in 2006 for committing what is now considered sexual assault of a female student, was deemed fit to continue teaching earlier this month after a probe into his record by Plymouth State.
“What Mr. (Zak Allan) Brohinsky did while a student at the University of Connecticut was wrong,” said Plymouth State President Donald L. Birx. “Since then, he has become a popular lecturer and deserving of a second chance.”
Brohinsky, the son of UConn Director of University Relations Scott Brohinsky, was a 19-year-old student at UConn when he and two other male students assaulted a sleeping female student by ejaculating on her face. He and the other students were charged with ‘reckless endangerment.’
Brohinsky pled guilty in the case, spending 75 days in jail and being expelled from UConn. He was released and transferred to Central Connecticut State University, finishing his degree in geography at Plymouth State. He was hired as an adjunct professor of geography in 2013.
In June 2016, Brohinsky’s record was brought to the attention of Plymouth State officials, who launched an investigation. On October 4th, it was announced that Brohinsky was deemed fit to continue teaching for the fall semester. Brohinsky is teaching one of two geography lectures this semester, according to university officials.
A faculty member of Plymouth State explained to the students in Brohinsky’s course that they would be allowed to transfer courses if they were not comfortable with the lecturer, according to Plymouth State officials.
Brohinsky could not be reached for comment. However, UConn Women’s Center Director Kathleen Holgerson weighed in her take on the story, as well as the definition of sexual assault under both UConn’s and Connecticut's legal policies.
“I think that it’s really up to the employer to be looking at what the considerations are,” Holgerson said. “The employer has a responsibility to do their due diligence, to think through, ‘What are the ramifications of this? What might this impact what the person’s role that you’re hiring might be?’ It’s not an easy answer.”
Holgerson said that it’s important to consider what steps the person who committed the act has taken in order to repent for their behavior, or what they have done to change.
“[You have to ask,] ‘What has happened for the person you're thinking of hiring? Has this person shown any remorse for what they’ve done?’” Holgerson said. “Has this person done any work in the interim to make redress or to try to change their behavior or move forward in any way?”
The people that Brohinsky will be interacting with most--students-- have a strong say in whether they feel comfortable enough to work with the person in question, Holgerson said.
“Students... have every right to be asking questions and to make decisions about how they do or do not want to interact with this person,” Holgerson said.
According to Plymouth State officials, no students have chosen to transfer from Brohinsky’s class based on his record.
One of the factors in Brohinsky’s case was the fact that his behavior was considered ‘reckless endangerment,’ since it was not technically legally within the definition of ‘sexual assault’ at the time. Connecticut legislature has since changed to include bodily fluids as part of nonconsensual sexual acts.
Sexual assault is defined by UConn as non-consensual sexual contact, Holgerson said. It includes nonconsensual intercourse or exploitation of images or messages. What Brohinsky and the other two male students did would be considered in spirit of the policy as non-consensual contact, even though it isn’t strictly defined.
“It would be be up to the folks who are investigating that to determine which of the policy pieces that specific incident might fall under,” Holgerson said.
She also discussed what students can do if they ever encounter a professor or person that they are uncomfortable with on campus, based on their record.
“We would get the student connected to the appropriate resources on campus, explore what options might be available, explore what obligation the university would have to respond to that student’s concerns,” Holgerson said.
The Women’s Center works closely with other university departments and institutions in order to help students and make other options available, Holgerson said.
When asked to what point a perpetrator of sexual assault could be forgiven, Holgerson said that it’s ultimately up to the person it happened to.
“At the end of the day, the survivor in the situation gets to make the decision about how they felt, what happened, whether or not there’s a sense of reparation,” Holgerson said. “Someone’s lived experience is their lived experience, and I don’t think we should be making assessments of other people’s experiences for them.”
Holgerson emphasized that it’s up to the students on whether or not they agree with Plymouth State’s decision, and that the Women’s Center is a resource for information regarding cases such as these.
“People think that our job is to tell people how to think, and it’s not,” Holgerson said. “Our job is to support the student in the process, and to make sure students have all the information to make informed choices of what steps they might want to take.”
Update 12:19 a.m. October 19, 2016
The story has been corrected to show that Zak Allan Brohinsky is currently a part-time, lecturer at Plymouth State. An earlier version the story claimed that Brohinsky is an assistant professor.
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.