Students rally at WCU against response to sexual assaults

Cynthia Jones, an organizer of a rally at West Chester University to protest sexual assault, reads a speech. About 75 people attended.
Cynthia Jones, an organizer of a rally at West Chester University to protest sexual assault, reads a speech. About 75 people attended. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 08, 2014

WEST CHESTER Following an unprecedented rash of reported sexual assaults on campus, West Chester University students pushed for change from community and campus officials at a rally Tuesday, with several saying they feel unsafe at the school.

"I don't want to see timely warnings that the only preventative measures are just for me to not drink that much and to not wear my dress too short," said a student who said she was sexually assaulted last year in her dorm room. "That's not acceptable."

The woman - who spoke on the quad as students in the midst of finals week stopped to listen, swelling the crowd to about 75 people - said she was upset by the university's response after she reported the incident, which did not lead to criminal charges.

"And that made me feel ashamed for years," she said.

Tuesday's rally was organized by students after five incidents the university has described as sexual assaults were reported over a month. They included a 61-year-old man grabbing a student's knee in the library, and a woman being sexually assaulted by a man she did not know in a campus residence, according to the university.

President Greg R. Weisenstein issued a statement Tuesday saying the university was committed to a safe environment and would not tolerate any acts of sexual misconduct.

Officials, students, and faculty have all said the uptick in incidents on campus likely means more students are reporting assaults, not that more are taking place. But the assaults - relayed to students by the university through timely warning e-mails - have alarmed students nonetheless.

"I should be able to walk from the library to the bus stop and not become another timely warning," 20-year-old Lauren Conwell told the crowd.

Students voiced concern about the university's response to sexual assault but also said the problem lies in society's tendency to place the burden of stopping violence on the victims.

"As men, we are the ones mostly committing this violence," said 21-year-old Malik Muhammad, a member of Men in Action, a campus group that urges men to take an active role in ending sexual assault. "Why are we continuously telling women to do all of these different things to protect themselves instead of approaching men and trying to teach them how to respect women?"

Loretta MacAlpine, a university spokeswoman who watched the event, said the fear voiced by students surprised her, because she considers the campus to be safe. She said there has never been a similar cluster of sexual assault reports in her 20 years at the university.

After hearing criticism of the warnings, which some students said are too vague, she said federal law mandates the university sends out information as soon as it is available, even if it isn't complete.

"We need to have a conversation about how we're communicating with students, whether we're communicating enough," she said. "And there is a balance that we have to walk as administrators between alarming them and totally desensitizing them to it."


tnadolny@phillynews.com610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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