Rows of empty chairs set the scene at the “It ends now” student and faculty discussion forum today, following last night’s packed dialogue on sexual assault.
Dozens of outraged students fought for discussion last night at the “It ends now” program when administrators tried to steer away questions from concerned students and staff. This afternoon, a much smaller crowd gathered in the International Center Commons to continue that conversation with administrators and President Ronald Crutcher, who opened the forum.
“This has been probably one of the most difficult weeks in my presidency here, and certainly in my career,” Crutcher said, referring to the multiple controversial articles published about the university this week.
“I remember just a few weeks ago speaking to the first-year students, talking to them about our values here at the University of Richmond and underscoring the fact that, on no uncertain terms, sexual assault is not something we condone at this university,” Crutcher said.
Dr. Glyn Hughes, director of Common Ground, then took on the role of the discussion’s moderator, calling on audience members who had questions and taking notes of the audience’s suggestions, juxtaposing the fast-paced question and answer session from last night.
The panel of administrators who were there to answer questions included Mia Reinoso Genoni, dean of Westhampton College, Maura Smith, Title IX coordinator and director of compliance, Joe Boehman, dean of Richmond College, and Steve Bisese, vice president for student development.
Dr. Monika Siebert, professor of English at the university, praised the administrators for respecting the students’ opinions and hosting a planned forum to hear from students.
“I found it heartbreaking yesterday… that only to the credit of our students the question and answer period did take place,” Siebert said. “I respect all of you [students] for bringing that about, for being persistent yesterday and for making our administration and us as an institution live up to the values that we have up on our website but sometimes we fail to practice.”
Siebert went on to express how she felt as out of the loop as students "regarding the events of the past week," and encouraged panel members to improve on faculty involvement and education when it comes to sexual misconduct on campus.
She also stressed the importance of making sure those administrators who work with sexual misconduct were different than those who work with the athletic department.
“We are separate,” Smith said. “The Title IX office is in Maryland Hall, so it's separate.” Smith currently serves as the Title IX Coordinator and Director of Compliance and worked previously in the athletic department as the assistant director for compliance.
Many of the students who spoke expressed concern about the schools’ accountability regarding the sexual misconduct decision-making processes.
“One of the things that a lot of the student population is looking for is just an apology,” Kobie Crosley, RC ’18, said. “I understand that legally you can’t say certain things, but when it comes to people feeling comfortable with the institution that they have given so much to and they care about so deeply, we really just want to hear some sense of a genuine apology.”
Boehman and Genoni replied with concern over pain they may have caused through an email sent out earlier this week.
“One of the things I was reflecting on as I was coming into work this morning is that we know that we have damaged your trust in us,” Boehman said. “And I am sorry for the pain that our messages have caused.”
“We are horribly, deeply, painfully sorry that we hurt you,” Genoni said. “And that’s where I want to be very clear: we did not do the right thing.”
Trent Sewell, RC ‘19, expressed concern over the vacancy that now exists after Beth Curry's exit as the coordinator of campus education, awareness and prevention efforts for sexual assault.
“The grant is not finished, and we’re actually filling the position long-term,” Bisese said.
“But how can you say you commit to [the position] if you’re going off a grant?” Sewell said.
Genoni clarified and said that the grant that was used to fund the position was not renewed but will continue for another year, after which the university will be funding the position.
Dan Mahoney, a Richmond College freshman, expressed two strong emotions at the forum: pride over being a University of Richmond student, and concern over his safety on campus.
“I have a sister who’s seventeen and applying here this fall,” Mahoney said, “and I want to be able to call her and say ‘Apply, you’ll be safe here.’”
Smith suggested that Mahoney and the rest of the audience should help the administration find a way for the sexual misconduct policies to be better understood in the community, stressing the importance of knowing the entire process.
Bisese explained his role in the sexual misconduct decision-making process, trying to convey to the audience the hope he feels while adjudicating on cases. “I push the button, and I live with whether or not hopefully we did the right thing,” Bisese said.
Both Westhampton College and Richmond College plan to hold events on Monday to continue the discussions even further regarding what has happened and what needs to change.
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