“Admitting that a man with a long history of sexual predation acted inappropriately and hurt students’ lives in his role as Associate Dean of Students for almost ten years is a necessary first step, and further changes and amends also need to follow.”
Content warning: This article discusses issues of sexual assault involving current and former Wesleyan students, faculty and staff.
Since last Monday’s news of Scott Backer’s arrest, many in the Wesleyan community have been responding with renewed frustration and anger at the current administration for their present and past handling of sexual misconduct cases.
One survivor has stated publicly that Scott Backer allowed for statements about a respondents character (e.g. “He’s such a good guy.”) during a hearing, despite this being against University policy, according to their account. Other accounts tell of Scott Backer asking invasive personal questions during the investigation process.
As a result of these stories and others, a petition was created calling for Wesleyan to admit that Scott Backer mishandled cases of sexual assault during his time on campus. Back in October, when the Wesleyan community was notified of the real reasons for Scott Backer’s firing 3 months after Wesleyan announced his departure sans commentary, President Roth mentioned that after a consultation from Pepper Hamilton, they found “nothing amiss” in the four years’ worth of sexual misconduct cases that Backer oversaw. Since then, there has been no detailed public mention of how Pepper Hamilton went about reviewing cases.
The petition has been circulating on social media and in other channels. It demands for an acknowledgement of Backer’s mishandling of Title IX cases; a disclosure of how Pepper Hamilton conducted its review; and a commitment to “[taking] real steps to make amends for the harm [Backer] caused,” suggesting a task force made up of more students than administrators to conduct Title IX reform as a possible solution. The petition was later updated to include a demand that Wesleyan acknowledge Backer’s mishandling of disability services, which he also oversaw as Associate Dean of Students. Read past the jump for the full text of the petition.
Dear President Roth,
We, members of the Wesleyan community, demand more than the hollow apology you shared with us in your most recent “Campus Update” after the news broke about Scott Backer’s solicitation of a 15 year-old girl on Yik Yak. Serious conversations need to continue to happen about how Title IX cases are handled and adjudicated on this campus, and about how survivors are supported in general. Many in our community are extremely upset that this man worked here for so long and in the capacity that he did. We have lost trust in the administration after watching you continue to claim that Scott Backer’s perversion influenced zero of the cases he presided over here. Admitting that a man with a long history of sexual predation acted inappropriately and hurt students’ lives in his role as Associate Dean of Students for almost ten years is a necessary first step, and further changes and amends also need to follow.
We demand that:
1). You admit that Scott Backer mishandled cases while he was Associate Dean of Students, as numerous survivors have come forward and stated;
2). You acknowledge the transgressions Backer committed while in charge of disability services, including violation of privacy of students receiving accommodations. We demand that Wesleyan be held accountable for their choice to put someone unqualified in that position, where he worked with students who are often rendered especially vulnerable by systemic ableism. We demand an apology from the school for Backer’s transgressions in this position as well as continued improvements to the Office of Accessibility Resources.
2). You disclose how Pepper Hamilton conducted its review of these cases and share the report they gave you that led you to conclude that there were “no concerning issues or impropriety” during his tenure;
3). You start supporting survivors and their accounts of how Scott Backer’s words and actions affected them and take real steps to make amends for the harm he caused. We know many of the students whose cases he adjudicated have since graduated, so working with survivors and experts to update Wesleyan’s Title IX reporting process would have a positive outcome. For example, assembling a task force made up of more students than administrators to commission an independent review of Backer’s conduct and impact as well as Title IX reform would help to increase transparency in the process. Additionally, this team could study the potential of removing the redundancy of holding a hearing after a thorough investigation has already been conducted, which could be beneficial for future students who report.
Members on this campus and in our alumni community are deeply, deeply hurt, not only by the way Scott Backer treated them, but by your continued refusal to admit that the experiences they’ve shared with you are real. Because of your denial and faux apologies, there is no sense of trust in the administration or in the entirety of the Title IX process, and that can literally destroy lives. If survivors don’t trust the process or Wesleyan’s leadership to stick up for them, they’re less likely to come forward. Just like students are held accountable for their mistakes, the Wesleyan administration should lead by example and own theirs.
Concerned students, alums, employees, parents, and friends
You can find and sign the petition here.