The University of Connecticut is now under federal investigation for its indifference and negligence in responding to reports of sexual assault and harassment. Following a Title IX complaint filed against the school by seven sexual assault survivors in October, the Department of Education has confirmed that it will be looking into UConn's sexual assault prevention polices and practices.
All seven students wrote the complaint themselves, with help from other survivors and advocates from the IX Network and EndRapeOnCampus.org; four of the complainants have also teamed with Gloria Allred to file a federal lawsuit against the college. The IX Network has helped students file federal complaints against 11 colleges this year — their work has led to federal investigations at UNC Chapel Hill, Occidental, Swarthmore, Dartmouth and the University of Southern California.
As outlined in the Title IX complaint, UConn has a deeply disturbing history of mishandling and neglecting sexual assault reports. One complainant, Kylie Angell, says that her rapist was allowed to re-enroll in school and return to campus two weeks after being expelled for raping her. When she tried to go to the UConn police because his presence made her feel unsafe, she was told, "Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep happening 'til the cows come home." Her rapist went on to sexually assault another student a year later. Another complainant, Carolyn Luby, alleges that she received absolutely no support from the administration after an essay she wrote about rape culture in the school's athletics program went viral, causing her fellow students to send her rape and death threats and to stalk her on campus.
According to the Huffington Post, a December 6 letter from the ED to UConn President Susan Herbst warned the university against retaliating against the complainants. If this measure seems over-dramatic or somehow unnecessary, it's not: in October, Herbst gave a hideously defensive and tone-deaf speech to the school's Board of Trustees, in which she expressed clear anger at the complainants for coming forward:
The suggestion that the University of Connecticut, as an institution, would somehow be indifferent to or dismissive of ANY report of sexual assault is astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.
This is so obvious to those of us who work here and deal with these serious and painful issues that I am stunned that I even have to say it, or that any reasonable person would believe otherwise... I completely reject the notion that UConn somehow doesn't care about these all-important issues, because nothing could be further from the truth.
She went on to say that she "cannot speak to the motivations of people who have suggested this." Which is absolutely baffling: shouldn't her anger and outrage lie with the rapists instead of with the women who feel that they weren't adequately protected and denied justice and peace of mind? (The school later indicated that Herbst was responding to the broad allegation of indifference and not specific claims, which makes little to no sense because Herbst's remarks to the Board occurred in direct response to the Title IX and Clery Act complaints.)
Looks like "rejecting the notion" that UConn has a history of mishandling sexual assault reports isn't enough to dissuade the ED from launching a probe. If the complaint is upheld, it will result in sanctions against the school, including a loss of federal funds.
Image via AP.