TW: Sexual assault, sexual violence, rape
Alexandra Docken’s solo protest made headlines last week, providing students with a platform to speak out about sexual assault and violence at the University of Connecticut. Students quickly began to organize, amplify the voices of survivors of sexual violence, share their stories and demand that the UConn Administration be held accountable.
In response to this call to action, UConn students received an email on Feb. 6 from newly appointed President Radenka Maric. This email declared that “UConn abhors sexual violence in all its forms and does its best to provide victims with compassionate care, resources, and much-needed support in the face of their trauma.”
This email contrasted reports from students that they felt alone and lost when trying to report acts of sexual violence to UConn’s Office of Institutional Equity and the UConn Police Department. Students who have gone through the process of filing a report have described it as a traumatizing, dismissive and coercive experience, and many others still do not report because of the university’s past of mishandling reports of sexual violence. Why did UConn feel this was an appropriate response to the criticism that students were being silenced? It read as nothing more than a reflexive defense rather than a critical analysis of how the administration can best serve the UConn community.
Students have expressed their outrage at the insufficient communication. Some feel it was a reactionary email that solidified the accusations that UConn is not doing enough to “protect our pack.” In an Instagram post, Docken described the communication as “an email trying to make us complacent with no signs of policy change in the future.”
In a 2016 report by the Washington Post, The University of Connecticut tied with Brown University for the highest prevalence of sexual violence on campus with 43 reported rapes. In 2020, the number of reported rapes reached 80, nearly doubling from 6 years prior when the report was released. This figure is also not representative of the 70 reports of Intimate Partner Violence and 16 reports of stalking that also occurred in 2020.
If UConn was truly creating “a culture on our campuses that is rooted in respect, awareness, supporting one another, and an extreme intolerance towards any form of sexual violence,” as Maric stated, students would not have to learn these statistics through social media posts. UConn has had years following the report to reflect and enact change. Rather than taking a proactive and intentional approach, UConn remains silent and complicit in violence against our community.
This is not a new issue at UConn, so why are we only hearing a stance from our administration when survivors of sexual violence have decided to become more visible and more vocal?
The actions (or inactions) proposed by President Maric and Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty are outlined in the communication are insufficient and defensive at best. At worst, it may contribute to silencing victims of sexual violence on our campuses.
First, by enlisting the help of students to organize a task force that would address the issues of sexual violence on campus, the UConn administration is demanding more emotional labor from students while forcing them to go through approved university channels to be heard.
UConn students have been transparent in seeing issues with the administration’s mishandling of sexual violence. And yet students are being asked to help the administration further identify and rectify the university’s shortcomings. If the university had been listening to victims of sexual violence as they claim, this task force would be obsolete.
Another notable item listed in the president’s email was the possibility of creating “online trainings,” focused on making our campus safer. Does UConn need an online training that students can click through and forget about, or do we need to take tangible steps to make our community safer? This reads as a “quick fix” solution to prove that UConn is invested in community care, a performative measure that may have little to no effect on the threats to campus safety.
Third, the email listed the Office of Institutional Equity as a resource to students amid student outrage that over 96% of cases of sexual violence reported to the university in 2021 have not been investigated. It is dismissive to claim to be responsive to complaints about the OIE’s mishandling of previous reports of sexual violence, and in the same breath, to direct students to those same modalities of reporting without expressing a desire for meaningful policy change.
The University communication is in poor taste. It reads as dismissive and defensive–not at all indicative of Trauma-Informed care. If UConn is able to take pride in their campus safety ratings, they must stop silencing their students and answer the overdue cries to “do better.”
Community Resources to Include
Survivor support groups (UConn Women’s Center)
UConn Revolution Against Rape