Students and allies gathered at Hartford’s capitol building on Saturday, demanding that the University of Connecticut defund the UConn police department and reallocate the funds it receives.
Defund UCPD, the group responsible for organizing the rally, demand that UConn reinvest 50% of UCPD’s budget into Student Health and Wellness – Mental Health (SHaW-MH) and 50% into COVID-19 austerity cuts. This reinvestment gives room for UConn to hire trained mental health professionals that are equipped to handle instances of sexual assault on campus instead of UCPD officers.
Sarah Mohamedzein, seventh-semester physiology and neurobiology major attended the rally in support of the cause.
“This rally is the result of growing frustrations with administrators response to racism on campus, sexual assault, and student mental health,” Mohamedzein said. “We hope administrators take us seriously and are willing to have a discussion on the issues students have brought up regarding UCPD.”
Demonstrators and speakers marched from the state capitol to the UConn Hartford campus where some spoke and shared their experiences.
Jessica Delgado, a sixth-semester nursing student and UConn Coalition for Collaborative Organizing (UCCO) member, shared her experience with sexual assault.
“How many more people need to share their trauma for TomKat [UConn President Thomas Katsouleas] to understand that UCPD is not the right way to help sexual assault victims, your students are screaming for help and it is hurtful not to acknowledge that your department has failed us and it has not stopped there,” Delgado said. “You only seek accountability for perpetrators, and you have ignored the other side which includes healing for victim-survivors.”
Defund UCPD believes mental health professionals should be the first on the scene in cases that involve sexual assault and wellness checks.
“By neglecting to fund mental health services and commit dedicated specialists to deal with the epidemic of rape on our campus, you are failing to deliver healing for victim-survivors,” Delgado said.
Investing more funds into SHaW-MH will provide a large number of students the opportunity to heal from past trauma, Delgado said.
“When you prioritize cops over mental health resources you are hurting [a] large community of victim-survivors at UConn,” Delgado said. “And when I tell you all that it was just one man on one night, it didn’t end there, the trauma stays with me. The trauma doesn’t stop until I am given the proper resources to heal, I deserve better, our UConn survivors deserve better, if you can do better, you have to do better.”
Michael Oretade, a founder of Black Lives Matter 860, attended the rally in support of UConn students and to listen to students share their stories of sexual assault.
“I am not surprised that there are rape victims that are not being cared for correctly because that is often how it is handled in a white neighborhood,” Oretade said. “It’s something that should be addressed, but for some reason when it comes to white people doing these things, they often associate it with being young. That says a lot about the people who are in power now.”
Continued efforts to rally and peacefully protest is the best way to be heard, Oretade said.
“Keep coming out and keep fighting,” Oretade said. “We can’t just lie down and let things continue and go back to the way police were before.”