Updated as of 12:34 p.m. Sept. 9, 2016: The original article stated that Channel Eight News was removed from the event. All other off-campus media were also prohibited from attending the event, according to Cynthia Price, director of media and public relations for the university.
Outraged students demanded a discussion about sexual assault with school administration at an “It ends now” program Thursday night, with more than half of the audience exiting the room when the deans’ responses were not to their satisfaction.
“It ends now” is an annual project at Richmond for which students unite in blue t-shirts to take a visual stand against sexual violence. This year, the event fell in a hostile week, after Cecelia Carreras published two pieces (here and here) on the Huffington Post contributor network accusing several Richmond administrators of mishandling her sexual assault investigation.
Carreras’s articles, along with Richmond’s mass email response calling her assertions "inaccurate," sparked heated conversations among students and alumni, who hoped to bring the discussion to administrators at Thursday’s program titled: “It Ends Now: A Culture of Shared Responsibility.” The event was planned before Carreras’s articles were posted and had been advertised as “an open dialogue and discussion about relationship and sexual violence.”
All off-campus media were prohibited from attending the event, according to Cynthia Price, director of media and public relations for the university. Once it began, several leaders of student organizations around campus shared personal stories and words of encouragement about strengthening the community against sexual violence. As the event drew to a close, audience members throughout the room raised their hands for questions, but were ignored by organizers of the event.
Refusing to take the conversation to the third floor of the commons where attendees were told they could ask questions, one of several alumni to attend to event, Melissa Dart, WC ’93, sparked the discussion.
“I am shocked and appalled that anybody here could reference this being a dialogue,” Dart said. “This was a monologue, this was not a dialogue, and everyone in this room was here not for the blue shirts. People were here because they want a discussion with administration.”
Voices joined Dart throughout the room with cries of “We want justice!” and “This is a public conversation!”
Under verbal fire from heated audience members, four administrators took to the front of the room to field questions in the university’s first public response since the email calling Carreras’s articles inaccurate.
The administrators were Mia Reinoso Genoni, dean of Westhampton College; Joe Boehman, dean of Richmond College; Maura Smith, Title IX coordinator and director of compliance; and Steve Bisese, vice president for student development.
Student and alumni complaints ranged from outrage at the school’s handling of Carreras’s investigation, to demands to hear the name of the student athlete who Carreras said had raped her, to requests for an apology and changes in the future. Carreras attended the event and left shortly after the audience’s forced forum began.
Questions and frustrations from the audience led to several repeated statements from administrators, the first being that there was information about Carreras’s case that they could not legally discuss.
Despite being the only administrator not present during the time of Carreras’s investigation, Genoni answered almost all of the questions.
“We are federally prohibited, as I have said, from talking about details. We just can’t,” Genoni said.
Challenging the response, Richmond Law student Eva Swanson said, “I feel like I have all the details I need to know from these articles, from these screenshots. He’s said, ‘I didn’t stop when she said no.’ How is he still on our team? How is he still on our campus?”
When Genoni began to respond to Swanson, more than half of the people in the room got up and left. By the end of the two-hour-long discussion, only about 65 were left of the more than 300 people who were present at the beginning of the event. The Collegian’s live stream of the event reached a total of 1,039 viewers, among them students, parents and alumni.
Another frequently visited subject was Carreras’s allegation that during her sexual assault investigation, Daniel Fabian, associate dean of Richmond College and deputy Title IX coordinator, told her, “I thought it was reasonable for [the accused] to penetrate you for a few more minutes if he was going to finish.”
Genoni referred to “the sentence being attributed to Dean Fabian” as “one of the most horrifying sentences any of us could imagine” and said Fabian had never said it. Fabian was not present at the event because he is recovering from surgery, Boehman said.
Fabian’s alleged statement led to what Genoni called “the biggest threat we have right now” — that students would no longer come forward to report their sexual assaults out of fear of hearing something similar.
Genoni herself said she would not come forward: “If we had a campus, where anybody, especially somebody in authority, could say ‘Oh it’s totally reasonable in this situation to give him four more seconds to finish’ — or any variation of that — if we let that happen, I wouldn’t report.”
Carreras’s attribution of the sentence to Fabian was one of the inaccuracies referenced in the school’s email response to the Huffington Post article, Genoni said.
“We could not not say that that statement was inaccurate. We had to say it,” Genoni said. “We know that was not what Dean Fabian said, but that does not make her a liar.”
Dart, the alumna who had sparked the conversation with administration, invoked the opinion of Jen Miller, a representative from the Safe Harbor shelter who had spoken during the “It ends now” program.
“I recognize how complicated [the email] is without seeing all the details of the case, and it did not read well,” Miller said. “It did look like you were blaming her.”
As the dialogue wore on, audience members turned to suggestions and demands that they wanted to see from the administration, including requests for more communication, compassion, a five-step plan and an apology.
Several audience members referenced the departure of Beth Curry, former coordinator for sexual misconduct education and advocacy, who recently resigned in anticipation of the grant for her position running out.
“We wanted you to trust us,” Liz Nigro, WC’ 17, said, “when we said Beth Curry was a key point person in really helping aid survivors and that we wanted a response from you saying, ‘Yes, we are going to make this position permanent.’”
Genoni said that the university was actively seeking to fill Curry’s position for the remainder of the grant, and revealed that after it ran out, there would “unequivocally” be someone in a full-time sexual misconduct education and advocacy position.
Genoni also promised more open communication with the community, including a report of how many people have been expelled from Richmond because of sexual assault.
“We are all incredibly sorry that we contributed to pain on this campus,” Genoni said.
Both dissatisfied students and administrators plan to continue the conversation that began at “It ends now.” Today, there will be a forum for students in the International Commons from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“People are fired up,” Dart said to administration as the discussion wound down at 9 p.m., nearly two hours after the original program ended. “Don’t just let that sit.”
To read The Collegian's live blog of the event, click here. Continue to follow The Collegian for updates as this story develops.
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