President Susan Herbst Delivers Sexual Assault Response Statement

President Susan Herbst delivered the following report to the Board of Trustees at its meeting on Nov. 13, 2013.

Reflecting on the discussions that have taken place in recent weeks, I believe the most important message to our campus community, to the board, and to the state, is this:

For all of us at UConn:  As long as there is a single sexual assault on any of our campuses, our work is not complete.

At the October 23 board meeting, I emphatically denied the suggestion that UConn, as an institution, was unconcerned with reports of sexual assault. I said nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be.

However, while I was responding only to the broad allegation of institutional indifference, unfortunately, my comments were misunderstood, giving the impression that I was commenting directly on the individual students, or their cases, or the specific claims that had been made.

I was not. I did not and would not ever publicly discuss the cases of the students who have come forward – or any individual student’s case, for that matter – or characterize them or their specific claims in any way.

This is out of respect for their privacy, for the legal process, and, most importantly, out of respect for them.

Let me be as clear as I can: the fact is that we commend anyone, especially our students, who are working to raise awareness and understanding of the issue of sexual assault, or who engage in education and prevention efforts, on or off campus.

At UConn we feel nothing but heartfelt compassion for every victim of sexual violence, and we will never stop working to keep our students safe, to prevent sexual assault, and to aid victims.

That is a pledge to them, to their families, to you, to the state, and to ourselves.

But it can never be a claim of perfection, because no institution could ever claim that.

The essence of a great university is evolution, through introspection and self-evaluation.

As the chairman said, universities must always work to build on their strengths and address their weaknesses.

This is true in every respect, including how we respond to crimes committed on our campus and against our students, faculty and staff.

We always strive to be completely accountable, to all we serve.

Each time a question is raised, or a criticism is lodged when it comes to the work we do in this area, it challenges us to evaluate ourselves, as we continually do.

We will never be content to stand still on any issue.  This is especially true when it comes to something as appalling and destructive as sexual violence.

We all believe this, as educators.

And as educators, we have a solemn responsibility to protect our entire campus community, especially our students. But the staff and faculty at UConn are not just educators, we are also mothers and fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

My overarching point:  These issues are personal to all of us, not merely professional.  Working closely with our students, we will do all we can to eradicate all forms of sexual violence on our campuses.

We will listen to our students, we will counsel them, and we will always be there for them when they need us.

Our determination is unwavering.

Given the questions raised in recent weeks, I would now ask our Title IX Coordinator, Elizabeth Conklin, our Vice President for Student Affairs, Michael Gilbert, our Chief of Police, Barbara O’Connor, and Kathleen Holgerson, the head of the women’s center here at UConn, to make a presentation on the university’s policies, practices and procedures when it comes to the issue of sexual assault and harassment.