SCSU

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SCSU Students Hold Rally to Remove Professor from Campus

The following is a guest blog post by Tess Koenigsmark. Tess is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, where she double majored in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Political Science. She was heavily involved in sexual assault prevention and reproductive justice activism and hopes to build on those experiences by pursuing a career in social justice.

Please note that views expressed by guest bloggers represent solely their own. CT NOW believes in open dialogue and multiple perspectives and welcomes (civilly worded) thoughts different from our own, but we do not necessarily endorse any writing done by the author here or elsewhere.

SCSU Students Hold Rally to Remove Professor from Campus

Protesters gather before the rally outside Earl Hall
Protesters gather before the rally outside Earl Hall

Last Monday, SCSU Speaks, a group of Southern Connecticut State University students organizing to remove a professor found guilty of sexual harassment from campus, held their second rally to draw attention to their demands. Professor David Chevan was found guilty of sexually harassing his former student, SCSU alumnae Wendy Wyler, yet received only a one-week suspension from the university for his violations, despite the efforts of Wyler and SCSU Speaks to remove Chevan and reform campus sexual harassment policies, which I’ve written about previously.

Approximately 40 people attended Monday’s rally, gathering in front of the campus fine arts building to hear Wyler and others speak. Wyler criticized the university for its continued inaction in the face of Chevan’s violations. She was especially critical of SCSU President Mary Papazian, whom she noted has daughters of college-age herself. Wyler also focused on the strong support she has received from outside groups, including students at Yale University, the University of Maryland, and Central Connecticut State University, telling all of her supporters that “your strength gives me strength.”

Other speakers included Alexandra Brodsky, one of the complainants in a 2009 Title IX case against Yale University, and Mary Ellen, a SCSU alumnus who was sexually harassed by a professor when she attended the university as an undergraduate 28 years ago. Like Wyler, Brodsky highlighted the power of activists from different schools working together to address a climate that’s hostile to female students. Mary Ellen, now a graduate student at SCSU, recounted her experience and her astonishment upon learning that 28 years later, the very abuse she endured continues.

From the rally in front of the fine arts building, the students marched to Englemann Hall, home of  Papazian’s office, holding signs and chanting “Professors not predators.” After marching through the building and all the way up to Papazian’s office (who was absent), protesters were told by campus police that they had to leave the building because they were disrupting other students’ education. Wyler and others retorted that sexual harassment was a disruption to students’ education on a scale far greater than the few seconds’ distraction of chanting protesters.

Among the protestors were staunch supporters such as Nicole Lopriore, a sophomore at Central Connecticut State University who attended the rally with other Central organizers to show “cross-campus solidarity,” as well as others who were just learning about SCSU Speaks. Ryan, a transfer student to CCSU, said he had seen a petition online regarding the sexual harassment case against Chevan, and when he heard an announcement for the rally over the PA speakers, he wanted to learn “how to be part of the movement.” Nicole D’Amio, another Central student, expressed hope that, “as more people speak up [about sexual misconduct], it will have to come to an end at some point.” In regards to that goal, Amanda Proscino, a senior at Southern and one of the founding members of SCSU Speaks, said that the group is hoping to propose a revised sexual harassment policy for the university. Proscino would like to see a zero-tolerance policy in place, noting that the university has one for drugs but not sexual assault or harassment.

One of the most poignant moments of Monday’s event came just as the protesters were about to be kicked out of Englemann Hall. As the other protesters filed away, Mary Ellen stayed behind to share her story with the deputy and express her disappointment in the manner the university continues to handle sexual harassment. She explained to me afterwards that while the current incident with Chevan brought back some upsetting memories, she feels a little better each time she shares her story. She recounted with a smile the satisfaction that stapling flyers around campus to advertise the rally had given her. “The way the school handled it surprised me,” she says of Wyler’s case. “Especially at a state school, we should feel safe…It should’ve changed. I couldn’t believe it.”

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Southern Connecticut State University Should Take Sexual Harassment Seriously

The following is a guest blog post by Tess Koenigsmark. Tess is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, where she double majored in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Political Science. She was heavily involved in sexual assault prevention and reproductive justice activism and hopes to build on those experiences by pursuing a career in social justice.

Please note that views expressed by guest bloggers represent solely their own. CT NOW believes in open dialogue and multiple perspectives and welcomes (civilly worded) thoughts different from our own, but we do not necessarily endorse any writing done by the author elsewhere.

In 2011, Wendy Wyler, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, filed a sexual harassment complaint against her music professor, David Chevan. According to the complaint, Chevan led her into a storage closet and sexually propositioned her while standing in front of the door, blocking her exit. Chevan’s lawyer continues to claim that the incident Wyler describes as truly frightening was nothing more than a misinterpreted conversation that lasted only several minutes. Wyler, whom I had the opportunity to speak with via phone conversation this week, paints a much more sinister picture of a series of inappropriate behaviors which culminated with the confrontation in the storage room. Wyler says that Chevan initiated a “grooming process” weeks earlier, starting with him offering her private lessons and solos.  While Wyler was at first pleased with the extra attention, as any musician would be, Chevan’s behavior soon became increasingly inappropriate. For example, he told her she was sexy and divulged that he had an affair with a student at a different university. At the urging of a friend, Wyler decided to file a complaint with the university. Afterwards, she learned from a former classmate that she was not the only female student subject to Chevan’s harassment, and her female classmates had suspected that she would be Chevan’s next target.

In a just world, one where all forms of sexual violence are taken seriously, this story should end here. Wyler makes the brave choice to come forward about the harassment, another student corroborates her claim, and a serious disciplinary process against Professor Chevan begins. It ends with a ruling that Chevan is no longer welcome at SCSU. Unfortunately, we do not live in that world, and that is not what happened. Wyler faced a series of major hurdles from the minute she decided to come forward, and her struggle continues today. Chevan was eventually found guilty of violating the sexual harassment policy, but his punishment was a mere one-week suspension and he continues to teach at SCSU today. As unsavory as that is, even such weak disciplinary action would not have happened without Wyler’s steadfast perseverance.

When Wyler first called SCSU’s human resources department, their response to her complaint was to tell her to “think about it and call back,” leaving her shocked and confused. She wasn’t undecided or uncertain about what had happened to her, and never claimed to be. Later on, she was told that there simply wasn’t anybody to take on her complaint. The position of the Title IX Coordinator, who is responsible for handling sex-based discrimination complaints, was empty. When somebody from the university finally agreed to meet with Wyler in person, they discussed what had happened for two hours, and concluded by telling her that there wasn’t anything they could do for her, but that they wanted her to “feel heard.” After all of this, a new university employee took on her complaint and launched an investigation. This led to Chevan being found guilty of violating sexual harassment policy and his one-week suspension.

Wyler’s complaint became public in January of 2012, when she filed a lawsuit against Chevan and another against SCSU. After filing the suit, Wyler’s attorney received numerous complaints from women who were harassed by Chevan, going back up to ten years. While Wyler has now settled the lawsuit against Chevan, mostly in order to cover mounting legal fees, the case against SCSU is still pending.

Sadly, Wyler’s experience is not unusual. Title IX, which was passed in 1972, prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and is meant to ensure that women and girls have equal access to education. Schools must address sexual harassment and sexual violence appropriately, and failure to comply can lead to a federal government investigation.  Despite the potential repercussions, many colleges and universities fail to address these issues until forced to do so. That’s exactly what happened at Yale, where the Office of Civil Rights conducted a 15-month investigation into the university “for its failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus, in violation of Title IX.”  Wyler hopes that if she wins the case against the university, it will trigger a Title IX investigation, and the university will be forced to make changes.

Those changes would hopefully include reforming the process through which sexual misconduct claims are handled. Wyler considers all the effort she’s put into her case worthwhile, and encourages other victims to go public with their stories, but her experience is certainly not one someone would wish on future victims. Considering the outcome of coming forward – a continued lack of support and discouragement from university officials and a slap on the wrist for the perpetrator – what evidence is there to offer other victims that reporting harassment is worth their while? Colleges and universities continue to give lip service to supporting victims, claiming they have no tolerance for sexual misconduct. Yet they can’t encourage victims to come forward, to go through what is generally acknowledged as a difficult process – sharing a traumatic story with university officials, being prepared for backlash from other students, having their actions investigated along with the perpetrator’s – if the punishment for perpetrators is so negligible to call into question its effectiveness as a deterrent for future bad behavior. It’s as if the punishment is almost inverse to both the trauma of harassment and the secondary trauma faced by going through the process of making the complaint. The path of Wyler’s complaint through university bureaucracy was so twisted that if SCSU were to treat the complainant and the accused equally, officials would have had to ignore Chevan and not return his calls for several weeks before he was allowed to mount a defense.

Sexual harassment is a serious offense that detrimentally affects women’s ability to obtain an education. However, the implications of a case such as this one are broader than sexual harassment alone. Sexual harassment is only one rung on a continuum of sexual violence that includes stalking, sexual assault, and domestic violence. How an institution responds to any of these problems lends insight to how it will handle others. There are several reasons for this; firstly that allegations regarding any of these acts are generally handled through a similar process, one that would hopefully involve the Title IX Coordinator. Secondly, even though the offense may vary, institutional callousness towards one victim of sexual violence does not bode well for others.  The lines between different types of offenses are not as clear as people may think. Too often, perpetrators escalate in their behaviors. Harassers can turn into stalkers. Stalkers can turn into rapists. Domestic violence can include any of these behaviors. If a university truly wants to deter any of these offenses, it should be concerned with all of them. When I asked Wyler if she had any concerns about SCSU’s handling of sexual assault claims, she expressed concern that the university’s lack of action could in some cases allow violence to escalate where it could have been prevented. Of the university’s indifference to her ordeal, she said it was like “they wanted me to walk out of that closet room bruised and bloodied and then they would have listened.” Wyler was not raped, and fully understands the difference between her experience and sexual assault. However, her experience should make one question how SCSU does handle sexual assault, an even more delicate situation, if a single sexual harassment complaint overburdened their current system.

The silver lining in all of this is that after fighting alone for much too long, Wyler has found support within the SCSU campus.  After hearing about her case several SCSU students banded together to form a new student group called “SCSU Speaks.” They hope not only to force action in Wyler’s case, but also to change how the university handles all sexual harassment violations. Although Wyler graduated in 2012, she is an integral part of the group. While their top priority is getting Chevan removed from campus, a list of their other demands can be seen here. They have already had one rally, attended by approximately 100 students, and their momentum is growing. Along with local sources, several national news outlets have covered their story, and they have been invited to speak at Georgetown Law’s Title IX Conference. Not too shabby for a fledgling organization.

Professor Chevan should have been removed from campus years ago (to be specific- at least two, and possibly ten). Wendy Wyler’s case against Southern Connecticut State University is one more piece of evidence in an epidemic of sexual misconduct and violence at colleges and universities across the country. As long as schools fail to take Title IX seriously, women do not have access to an education equal to that of their male peers. No woman’s pursuit of education should be interrupted by harassment or violence, but if it is, schools should act quickly to ensure the least disruption to the victim’s life and studies. And if a basic sense of compassion and regard for their students’ well-being isn’t motivation enough, schools can count on dedicated campus reform advocates, such as Wyler and SCSU Speaks, to provide the extra push.

More information on SCSU Speaks can be found at the group’s Facebook page or Tumblr, and they can be contacted through email at SCSUspeaks@gmail.com. Their next rally will be held on Monday, October 7th at 1:00 p.m. Protestors will be marching to the Title IX Coordinator’s office to demand that SCSU meet their first three demands: removing Chevan from campus, issuing a formal apology, and forming a committee to reform sexual harassment policy. Those who can’t attend can still offer their support by signing their online petition. In addition, the group hopes that its efforts will encourage other survivors of harassment to speak out, and they welcome people to contact them anonymously to share their stories.

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September 9-15 Weekly News Round Up

Weekly News Round Up

 A roundup of current news story on the state and national level, with a focus on feminist issues

By Tess Koenigsmark

Southern Connecticut State University students held a protest Tuesday against alleged university mishandling of a sexual misconduct case. Two years ago, the university concluded that Professor David Chevan had violated school sexual harassment policies after a student came forward with claims that he trapped her in a storage room and made sexual advances. Chevan was suspended for two weeks, but remains on campus and has not suffered any university disciplinary action beyond the suspension. While Chevan’s lawyer denies the allegations, the take-away here is that SCSU found Chevan guilty of serious misconduct and continues to employ him. This is not a question of he-said, she-said, but a failure to appropriately discipline a staff member found to be at fault.

Connecticut is using a unique approach to encourage enrollment in the state healthcare exchange, which opens in October. Outreach workers have been going to beaches, concerts, and other local events to market the exchange to residents. Connecticut’s investment is a smart one, as the more people enroll, the more successful the exchange will be. The exchange is targeted at the uninsured as well as people paying too much for their current insurance, and will offer substantial subsidies to offset costs.

NAACP leader Ben Jealous is stepping down as the organization’s President and CEO. Over at RH Reality Check, is it time for a black feminist NAACP president?.

Debate over the constitutionality of an Ohio abortion law is headed to the Supreme Court. The law requires doctors to follow FDA protocol for prescribing Mifeprex, the medication (sometimes referred to as the “abortion pill”) taken for a medical abortion. While following FDA protocol sounds innocuous enough, the Slate article linked above explains how this actually requires doctors to administer the medication in a manner that’s less safe for patients, making the law a blatant attempt to undermine women’s reproductive options.

India has sentenced 4 men convicted in a New Delhi gang rape and murder to death by hanging. The rape and murder of the 23-year old victim sparked outrage in India over the frequency of sexual assault and the government’s failure to address sexual violence.

In a recent study of 6 Asian countries (Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea), 1 in 4 men admitted to committing rape.  The study highlights the widespread nature of sexual violence, and the need for proactive solutions addressing rape culture. A necessary reminder: While it’s easy to let outrage over sexual violence in other countries placate us about the state of affairs in the US, our “developed” nation is far from perfect in regards to this issue.

Speaking of which, members of the Peace Corps currently do not have access to abortion coverage in cases of sexual assault. Other federal employees, including members of the military, already receive this coverage.  The Peace Corps Equity Act was introduced in the Senate earlier this year to correct this glaring oversight. To be sexually assaulted while doing your job is traumatic enough without having to worry about the consequences of an unintended pregnancy. You can sign a petition in support of the Peace Corps Equity Act here.

A report on the performance of Hartford students shows that that students attending magnet or suburban schools outperform their peers who remain in Hartford Public Schools. The initiative to desegregate schools is a result of a 1996 Supreme Court Case, and CT is still shy of its required integration benchmark. While it’s hard to deny that integration is beneficial (for urban and suburban students, I would argue), the bigger question is how to best achieve it.

A report by Connecticut Voices for Children found that arrests in CT schools declined over a three-year period, but many students are still being arrested for minor school violations. While schools should take legitimate safety concerns seriously, it makes little sense to criminalize children for non-threatening disciplinary issues. There is also a striking racial disparity in rates of arrests.

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