Content Warning: Sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, intimate partner violence
Recently, the University of Connecticut released two annual safety reports for 2021 detailing data on criminal activity and sexual violence incidents.
The first report was the Clery Annual Security and Fire Safety Report — which is required from all U.S. universities that receive federal funds and compiled by the UConn Division of University Safety. It details the prevalence of certain crimes on campus, including violations of the Violence Against Women Act, arrests and disciplinary referrals for drug and alcohol violations and hate crimes.
Additionally, UConn’s Office of Institutional Equity compiled and released a state-mandated annual overview required of all Connecticut colleges and universities outlining the institutions’ policies, programming and data on sexual assault, stalking and intimate partner violence.
Alarmingly, these reports noted a 78% increase in rapes on the Storrs campus, from nine in 2019 to 16 in 2021. The Daily Campus reported that while there are likely a number of factors involved in this significant increase — including possibly fewer survivors of sexual assault reporting their experience to the UConn Police Department — such an increase is still concerning.
As emphasized during the multiple campus protests against sexual violence and sexual assault during the Spring 2022 semester, administrative action regarding the topic of sexual violence and sexual assault on campus has been extremely lax.
Students and other UConn community members have already told their administration that student safety should be treated as a priority on campus; administrators, with responsibility over university funds, now must allocate resources where they are needed. The survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence on campus are not just numbers or statistics — these are real people that have been deeply impacted and further mistreated by UConn administration in the handling of such cases.
The new university administration led by President Radenka Maric inherits the responsibility of protecting students from her interim government. The Task Force for Combating Sexual Violence and Supporting Our Students, which Maric formed in February of 2022, met just six times in the spring of 2022, and has not yet produced any tangible results on campus. The task force recommendations whose “due dates” as outlined in the report have already passed are vague, and it is unclear whether the Offices of the President or Institutional Equity have taken initiative on matters as simple as clarifying information on their website. A goal for the task force set for Aug. 29 was to “Increase awareness of and ease of access to no contact directives in sexual violence cases,” yet the Title IX webpage containing information on no contact letters remains uninstructive.
In her Feb. 6, 2022 letter addressing sexual violence, Maric states, “First and foremost: I want you to know that the health, safety, and well-being of all our students is our highest priority.” But the lack of communication from any administrative office on progress instituting any of the task force’s tame recommendations while available statistics demonstrate ongoing public safety crises for UConn students reveals a different story.
The administration routinely fails to address the role of the UConn Police Department in the mishandling of sexual violence and harassment cases. UCPD has long been criticized by students for their lack of responsiveness, action and care upon being reached by survivors of sexual violence. The university’s proposed solution to this measure as described in the task force report is providing first responder and trauma-informed response trainings to UConn employees; however, the launch date for these trainings is poised to be fall of 2023. As gendered violence continues to harm students in their day-to-day lives, UConn’s demonstrated lack of urgency calls into question the attention paid to student concerns during the task force’s short lifespan.
These reports indicate a frightening reality regarding the safety of students on UConn campuses. The Editorial Board demands more attention from administration on the subject, and encourages students to do the same. Safety needs to be a priority; a Blue Light system is not enough, nor is a task force. The UConn Police Department, the primary public safety entity on campus — notable for mishandling of sexual assault and related threats — is grossly overfunded while scarce resources are directed towards the pursuit of vague recommendations on unclear timescales.
The UConn administration and community in general needs to have a better understanding of the harm caused by gendered violence. There is a cultural change that needs to occur here as well — one that prioritizes solidarity with survivors over complacency. These changes must occur alongside substantial resources being redirected towards student safety by the UConn administration.