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After year of voyeurism, Conn College students ask admin to do more

May 4, 2019

New London — For four long months this academic year, a voyeur targeting showers at Connecticut College had the campus on edge.

Women traveled to the bathroom in pairs. Administrators pondered possible solutions. Students formed an activist group and hung a spray-painted shower curtain in the middle of campus.

“Take Back Our Showers,” it read. “We Demand Real Action.”

Many breathed a sigh of relief when, in March, police charged former Conn student Carlos Antonio Alberti with snapping cellphone pictures of at least five unsuspecting women on seven different occasions.

But some students still think the administration is doing too little to address — and prevent — sexual assault and harassment on campus.

Students’ concerns

Driving much of the conversation is Will Canellakis, a freshman who writes for student newspaper The College Voice.

In a February opinion piece, Canellakis shared the stories of two sexual assault survivors, one of whom had no idea what resources were available to her. He called on the college to do more.

“The women inspired me to write it,” Canellakis said, referring to the survivors. “But the reason I’m originally interested in this topic is because of an incident that happened when I was young.”

Canellakis said he was a freshman in high school when he had to stop a boy from raping a relative of his who drank too much at a party.

“I don’t understand how someone can do that to another person,” he said. “Especially when they’re not conscious.”

Sitting in the library earlier this semester, he and three other students — freshmen Zoe Bertone and Therese Etoka and senior Dana Gallagher — outlined their concerns about the culture at Conn.

Beyond orientation, they said, students don’t hear much about what to do or what services they can access if they’re victimized.

Administrators won’t say how many pending cases they have under Title IX, a law that prohibits sex-based discrimination within educational institutions that receive federal funding.

Administrators also didn’t respond to Canellakis’ requests for comment until after his opinion piece ran.

“A reality of this college is the lack of transparency,” said Gallagher, outgoing co-editor in chief of The College Voice. “But to ignore the issue is not going to make it go away.”

The students said a college program called Green Dot, which teaches students how to intervene to prevent sexual violence and stalking, puts too much onus on bystanders.

They said many students also don’t know where to find the “Green Dot office,” which actually is the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy.

Administrators haven’t addressed what the students said is a well-known issue at an off-campus housing complex known as the Ridges. The Conn students allege that students from other area colleges come to parties there and wait for women to get drunk so they can “hook up.”

And the college didn’t hire a full-time Title IX coordinator until August of last year — after students organized and demanded one.

“Obviously people don’t come forward in an administration that doesn’t seem to do anything,” Etoka said. “It’s already hard enough to share that story. Why be open and vulnerable about something that hurt you if you know nothing is going to get done?” 

The college responds

John McKnight, dean of institutional equity and inclusion, said the college tells students “often and in different ways” what they can do if they’re victimized.

In addition to brochures and posters that scatter the campus, he said, administrators also send emails that include the address of the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy, which is in the student center.

The issue is many students don’t absorb information until they find themselves needing it.

McKnight said the college launched Green Dot in 2010 because anyone can participate in bystander intervention. The program has a single director who oversees three to four interns and 20 to 25 volunteers. Those who become Green Dot certified commit to six-hour training and to being vigilant while out and about.

While bystander intervention has proven to be effective — academics often visit Conn to learn about its program — McKnight said he agrees it’s not a standalone remedy to sexual violence.

“Maybe because Green Dot is so visible, students thought that was all that was happening,” he said. “But there is a lot more that should be and is happening.”

Beyond running Green Dot, the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy — directed by Rachel Stewart since January — has had panels, workshops, art displays, trivia nights and more, discussing everything from the law and consent to how to support friends affected by sexual violence.

“For me, prevention is about education and awareness raising, which we start during orientation and continue throughout students’ time at the college,” McKnight said.

McKnight urged students who have specific examples of sexual assault or harassment to report them via CamelWeb, the college’s intranet. Students can remain anonymous.

In lieu of that, he said it’s hard for administrators to launch investigations.

He said students who have broader cultural concerns, such as the potentially dangerous environment at the Ridges, should address them with the Student Government Association, which in turn can bring the concerns to administrators.

“I want that conversation,” said McKnight, who said he hadn’t heard of the Ridges issue before Canellakis mentioned it earlier this year. “I invite it.”

As for availability, McKnight admitted he can be slow to respond to emails because he gets so many, but said other employees go above and beyond.

“I’ve worked at quite a few campuses and I feel like we are the most accessible administration,” he said, citing monthly lunches with the deans as one example.

“Those are open for any student to talk about anything,” he said. “The students do that, they do it often and they bring up really important issues.” 

The process

If a student is sexually assaulted or harassed, he or she can tell any employee of the college — resident assistants, designated campus advocates, professors, etc. — to start the confidential Title IX process.

All faculty and staff at Conn must report such information to the Title IX office. They’re reminded of that during annual training, McKnight said.

From there, the college collects details about what happened and points the student to resources, including counselors. In some cases officials also ask professors to offer extensions on assignments, or move students to new dormitory rooms.

Students decide whether they want the college to investigate — an external investigator teams up with an internal investigator for each complaint — and whether they want to report the incident to police.

McKnight said the timeline of each college investigation varies, but federal guidelines suggest 90 days and “we try to beat that by far.”

He said he doesn’t release the number of ongoing investigations because, if the number is low, students may be able to figure out who complained.

“We have to do everything we can to protect the privacy and confidentiality of those who are going through the process,” he said.

McKnight said he would, however, consider releasing an annual, end-of-the-year report.

The students who spoke with The Day said they would welcome that.

“That would show the college is doing something,” Bertone said.

Unlike some colleges, Conn reports its crime statistics annually as required by the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Per the data, the college had 12 reported rapes and one case of fondling in 2017. More recent data were not available.

McKnight said Conn wants to make the reporting process “as clear and supportive as possible.” He said most who have gone through the process — especially this year — seem content with it.

“Ultimately it’s their choice, but we encourage people to come forward,” he said. “We’re not only worried about providing the resources they need, but also thinking about the safety of the broader community.”

l.boyle@theday.com