Content warning: sexual violence, domestic abuse
Over the past five days, the University of Connecticut community has participated in an increased amount of discourse about the treatment of sexual violence survivors on our campus. It all began last Thursday, when UConn student Alexandra Docken stood alone in the center of campus holding a sign that said “I was raped and UConn silenced me.” Docken later went on to share the experience of reporting her assault with The Daily Campus, and ultimately both her protest and her story became widely shared on social media.
So far, students have organized several protests, and there are more to come. But students shouldn’t have to demand justice for survivors in the first place. It is the university’s responsibility to ensure that justice is rightfully served to survivors who are hurt on campus or in UConn-affiliated spaces. Allowing abusers and rapists to continue their time at UConn with no consequences is a horrific failure of the UConn administration and is a direct contradiction to the purpose that UConn serves as an inclusive and accessible learning environment.
Docken, and other survivors’ stories, have shown that the university cares more about ending investigations quickly and quietly than actually listening to the experiences of their students and advocating for them. Docken’s experience exemplifies this. She was told that she needed to verbally accept the outcome of her investigation to close the case, despite being vocal about not agreeing with the way that it was carried out. Giving students ultimatums and discouraging them from pursuing further action against their abusers is not a trauma-informed approach to addressing sexual assault. Treating survivors with human decency is not too much for students to ask for from a university that they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend.
UConn must change its handling of these cases immediately by making the reporting and investigation process transparent for those who wish to report violence that they experience within our community. The administration must do better to treat students with empathy and compassion when they seek help. Students have made this message clear by protesting and sharing their stories. But the response that we have received from UConn thus far could not be more insufficient.
In a letter to the UConn community on Sunday, Feb. 6, Interim President Radenka Maric addressed the topic of sexual violence at UConn. Maric’s letter begins, “As your president for seven days and faculty at UConn for 12 years, I place student well-being and success as my top priority.” This introductory paragraph immediately shows a theme of avoidance that is present throughout the letter. While it is important in some cases to acknowledge the background and intent of administrators when talking about university-wide issues, remedying the traumatic experiences of sexual assault survivors is not one of those cases.
Other word choices, such as calling the outrage “discussions taking place mainly on social media,” and referring to herself and other UConn administrators as parents come across as attempts to undermine the issue at hand and paint UConn in a pleasant light. Maric and the public relations team at UConn could have, and should have used this letter as less of a public relations opportunity and more of an acknowledgement that UConn has failed to protect its students.
Maric goes on to say that the UConn administration will work to evaluate “our current educational programs for students (including orientation and online trainings), how we support victims of sexual violence, and the university’s processes regarding sexual assault and intimate partner violence.” This is a step in the right direction, but without immediate changes to the existing, harmful processes, our community is not safe.
The UConn administration cannot let this assessment drag out and ultimately lead to no action as has been the case for other issues, like the university’s inaction towards the issue of climate change. While Maric’s letter has opened the floor for discussion, the UConn administration has made no promises for positive institutional change. Listing this issue as “a priority” is not enough. As students, we demand and deserve better treatment for survivors now.