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
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.”