“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.
For some reason, this post was not included in last year’s Unofficial Orientation Series, even though we had some major student activism occurring during the 2014-2015 school year. Before I link to some of that history and go more in-depth as to some actions occurring this past year, I want to start by quoting alt‘s incredibly well-written intro to the 2014 Rage Update:
It’s no secret that Wesleyan has a problem holding onto great professors (see: our 2014 article on Professor Sarah Mahurin, 2012 article about tenure, and 2011 article on our hiring stats and issues). The lack of transparency surrounding why we can’t seem to keep anyone appears to be another issue entirely. Chances are if you’ve been here for a while, you’ve seen at least one phenomenal professor be denied tenure and/or not asked back, only to have the department say that the prof just “wasn’t a good fit.” What the F does that even mean?
Right now, students, led by Nisha Grewal ’17, are fighting to keep Assistant Professor of Physics Christina Othon, who’s been at Wesleyan since 2010, on campus. You can sign the petition HERE and check out the Facebook page supporting Professor Othon staying on campus HERE.
Here’s Grewal’s petition, which garnered over 100 signatures by early afternoon on Thursday:
From Planned Parenthood Intern Lily Kong ’16:
Do you think we need a Gender Resource Center/Women’s Center on campus? TELL US WHY! The Planned Parenthood interns, in conjunction with various student groups, are working towards the creation of a Gender Resource Center on campus. Please help gather support by signing our petition and providing testimonials for our proposal!
Thanks so much!
Date: Do it NOW
We posted last week about a Students for Justice in Palestine petition that called on the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) to divest from companies that profit from or contribute to the occupation of Palestinian territories. Since then, there’s been a petition circulating by J Street U urging the WSA not to divest in order to facilitate the current round of negotiations between Israel and Palestine. You can read this petition below and sign here if interested:
Recently, a petition has circulated among students and alumni calling on the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) to divest its endowment from Israel as a response to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the undersigned agree with the urgent need to resolve the conflict and end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories, we believe that a boycott of Israel is at best ineffective, and likely a counter-productive response to this conflict.
A few weeks ago, commenting on the New York Times’ coverage of Wesleyan’s financial aid woes, we wrote that this was likely the first many alumni were hearing of changes to Wesleyan’s need-blind status. Following a Q&A with the Board of Trustees in November, chairman Joshua Boger ’73 assured A-Batte and me that the great majority of alumni are aware of cuts to need-blind and enthusiastically approve. A new petition by Lana Wilson ’05 suggests otherwise.
“I don’t think any program, building, or department is worth sacrificing an economically diverse student body,” writes Wilson in the petition, which is personally addressed to President Roth via Change.org. “I and everyone who has signed this letter hopes that you will do the right thing, and continue Wesleyan’s practice of admitting the best students possible, rather than those with the most personal wealth.”
“My intent was originally for alumni to sign it, but I’m fine with current students signing it as well,” Wilson explained to me in an email. “Then my plan was to send President Roth a hard copy of the letter with all the signatures at the end.” According to Wilson, Roth receives an email for every signature the petition receives, including any personal message that’s attached. As of writing, the petition has amassed some 246 signatures, ranging from current students to a diverse scattering of alumni, including Beasts of the Southern Wild producer Dan Janvey ’06. The individual messages are particularly affecting. Many speculate that they wouldn’t have been able to attend Wesleyan without need-blind admissions. “Wesleyan falls far short in alumni giving of its competition and this is an issue those of us who love Wesleyan feel strongly about and would impact upon giving,” writes one alum. “Stop being assholes,” chimes in another:
This post is in response to Tragedy and Facebook Statuses, a recent “WesleyingSpeak” by tuna.
My mother texted me Friday morning with news of the Sandy Hook shooting. At first I was just kind of numb. I combed through all my usual news sources, hoping to find more information. At this point, only the shooter had been confirmed dead. I went to lunch and continued to study for my film final.
However, about an hour before I took the test, “confirmed” reports started emerging: Around 26-28 people were murdered, most of them children, all of them shot down by a single, initially misidentified man. Again, I was overtaken by numbness. I tried to put the tragedy out of my head as I worked through my final, and afterwards I just sort of collapsed in my room. My mom called to tell me she loved me, and I watched Obama’s speech. I cried.
I thought about all of those kids who wouldn’t go home that day. I tried to think about what I was doing at that age. Little six-year-old me would’ve been swinging in the backyard, watching Scooby-Doo, and begging her mom to read me just one more picture book. I couldn’t help but think about the lives of these children, past, present, and future.
And then I wrote a Facebook status:
“We believe it is is not ethically responsible at this time for us as alumni to financially support an institution that is not willing to properly ensure the safety and respect of its student body.”
Confirming reports from Homecoming Weekend that a significant number of alumni are aware of and unhappy about recent campus controversies surrounding sexual assault and need-blind admissions, Wesleying received the following letter from members of the class of 2010. The note has been circulating via email among recent alums. In it, Anonymous ’10 expresses “serious concerns regarding two recent, unsettling missteps taken by Wesleyan University” and asks hir classmates to pledge not to donate. No doubt this suggestion will be controversial on campus (particularly in the arena of need-blind, where Wesleyan’s meager alumni giving rate is especially pertinent). No doubt it will also grab attention.
Some alumni have already defended their unwillingness to donate in the comments section of recent posts. Wesleying is interested in following up with a longer feature. If you’re an alumnus who won’t donate to the school and want to talk about it—or a caller for Red & Black—please contact us at staff(at)wesleying(dot)org.
Here’s the letter:
“No Wesleyan student should feel unsafe on campus.”
If you’ve glanced at Wesleying in the past week or so, then you’re already familiar with the federal lawsuit that refers to Beta as a ‘Rape Factory’ and accuses the University of failing to protect students from sexual assault and rape. (Since last weekend, the case has received national media coverage.) Vincent Vecchione ’07 and Holly Wood ’08 (yes, that Holly) have responded with an online petition calling on the Board of Trustees to require that ResLife analyze all other instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape and assess how well the office responded. According to Vecchione, every signature on the petition sends an email to the Board. The full text appears below.
In light of the recent allegations of the administration’s horrifying mistreatment and cruelty toward a rape victim in 2010, it is crucial that Wesleyan University analyze all other recorded charges of sexual crimes reported to the Offices of Residential Life and Public Safety. The best way to do this is for the Office of Residential Life to analyze every prior notice of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, then review how the Office responded, and whether this response was effective. Special attention should be paid to cases of representatives of the administration “gaslighting” or otherwise diminishing the criminality of harassment, assault and rape to undergraduates.