Text by Kathleen Megan, Hartford Courant; video by Jan Carabeo, Fox CT
Seven students and former students filed a federal discrimination complaint against the University of Connecticut Monday, alleging the university failed to protect them from sexual assault on campus and to respond adequately after they reported the assaults.
“They are simply tired of seeing women being raped and sexually assaulted at the university while the administration shows deliberate indifference,” civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred said, “and they have joined the ranks of women at many universities across the country that have chosen to fight back.”
At a news conference Monday in Hartford, four of the seven women told their stories and their reasons for filing the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights under Title IX. Allred said the federal law “guarantees students the right to an education free from the violation of their human and civil rights.”
Kylie Angell, who graduated in May and now works as a registered nurse at Norwalk Hospital, said she was raped by a classmate in a UConn dormitory.
She said she reported the rape to the university’s Office of Community Standards. A hearing was held on campus, and the classmate was found guilty of sexual misconduct. Angell said she was told that he would be expelled and not allowed to return to campus, but two weeks later, she saw him.
“I was eating in a dining hall when the perpetrator sat down next to me and threateningly grazed my elbow in an obvious act of defiance,” Angell said. “I was then met by heckling from his friend, who shouted at me that the perpetrator ‘was back.’ ”
If the Office of Civil Rights finds that UConn violated Title IX, Allred said, the school could lose federal funding or be fined. Allred, who has been involved in similar cases at other colleges, said it was not clear how long it would take for the federal office to address this case.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said Monday afternoon that Office of Civil Rights workers were not aware of the complaint.
Stephanie Reitz, spokeswoman for UConn, said in an email that the university “takes allegations of this nature extremely seriously, as the health and well-being of our students is our top priority. … We are confident at this point that these cases were handled thoroughly, swiftly, and appropriately.”
Reitz said federal privacy law prohibits the university from discussing specifics of the cases, but if the students wanted to waive their privacy protection rights, the university would be willing to provide details of its response.
She also said the university would welcome any additional information on the cases. “Our students should reasonably expect protection and due process,” Reitz said. “They deserve the best response in the nation, and we’re committed to ensuring that right.”
Angell said that after meeting her assailant in the dining hall, she went to the UConn police. She learned that he had filed an appeal.
“I was upset that the administration had kept the findings the same but changed the sanction and readmitted my rapist,” Angell said. “I was told that the UConn employee assigned to notify me that the rapist was back on campus had forgotten to do so.”
Angell said she also was told that one top administrator thought the expulsion was “too severe.”
With the assailant on campus, Angell said, she “slept through many days because walking around campus was too terrifying,” and she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
Erica Daniels, now a senior, said she was drugged and raped by a fellow student. She said her complaint to the university’s Office of Community Standards proved to be ineffective, and she feels UConn let her down. Now, she said, something as simple as walking to class has “turned into a stress- and anxiety-filled trip.”
Rose Richi, a junior, said: “The thrill and excitement I felt being a student at UConn was shattered when I was sexually assaulted by a male student athlete. I spent the following week in my bed crying, trying to understand what had happened to me. I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone or reporting because of the overwhelming privilege of athletes on this campus.”
Richi eventually reported the assault to the UConn police, “but the detective told me he did not believe me.”
Carolyn Luby, the lead plaintiff in the case and a fifth-year student at UConn, said she wrote an open letter to UConn President Susan Herbst last spring in an attempt to draw attention “to the way the administration at the university had been deliberately indifferent to issues of sexual violence.”
The letter unexpectedly went viral, she said, and she began to receive rape and death threats through the Internet and from students on campus.
“The administration at UConn knew about the sexual harassment and hostile environment I experienced, yet responded with resounding silence,” Luby said.
She said the UConn police department did not take her seriously and sent her away with advice to “wear a hat” so people wouldn’t recognize her.
Reitz disputed Luby’s account, saying Herbst responded “swiftly and strongly” with a letter that was widely circulated, met with Luby and others, and created a task force to address issues of civil behavior and speech on campus.