UVM student’s Instagram post sparks reckoning over sexual assaults on campus

UVM students are speaking up about sexual assault.
Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 7:17 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - An Instagram post by a University of Vermont student about sexual assault has triggered an outpouring of similar allegations from others students, and a call for change.

Monday’s post that’s sparking outrage across campus came from a student named Athena. It outlines what they say happened after they reported a sexual assault on campus and how the administration handled the allegation. So far, the post has received more than 3,000 likes and nearly 100 comments.

Athena’s actions have inspired other students to come forward with their own claims, including a TikTok by UVM senior Carrie Finkelstein that’s rapidly gaining traction with about 16,000 likes. “It’s been really, really heartbreaking to see everyone’s stories, but it’s also been really empowering to know that there are so many of us out there,” Finkelstein said.

After seeing Athena’s post, Finkelstein and fellow senior Maya Greally on Thursday created the Instagram page “UVM Empowering Survivors,” establishing a safe space where those who’ve experienced sexual assault on campus can find community and solidarity.

“They’re all like, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, because I never would have come forward,’” Greally said.

In less than 24 hours, the students say they’ve received more than 30 responses from UVM students. “All of us were aware that sexual assault is a problem on campus. It’s hard to be a female-identifying person and not know that sexual assault is a problem on campus. But the volume of people speaking out on their own Instagrams and that are reaching out to us, either in our DMs or through our forum, is incredible,” Greally said.

But what the students say is most prominent in the messages -- complaints that the UVM administration isn’t properly punishing perpetrators and thereby perpetuating the abuse. None of

“The reason that sexual assault is allowed to occur at such volume here is because the administration, specifically the Title IX offices and police services are not adequately equipped or trained to handle anyone who comes to them,” Greally said.

University officials emailed students and families on Thursday, acknowledging the claims and offering immediate action items. Those steps include:

  • “Formalizing recognition of the current AAEO Student Advisory Committee that... gather the student perspective relating to sexual harassment and misconduct process and prevention efforts and to apply the feedback received to create meaningful change.”
  • “Establishing a summer study committee led by the Vice Provost for Student Affairs to assess current sexual violence prevention...”
  • “A broad assessment of the scope and effectiveness of support and advocacy services available to UVM community members...”
  • “Enhancement of the already required annual training on trauma-informed practices for UVM investigators and others involved in the sexual misconduct resolution process...”
  • “Annual training on trauma-informed support for confidential support staff at UVM.”
  • “A comprehensive review of current communications, policies and procedures to ensure all members of the campus community are made aware of the resources, supports, and reporting options available to them in a proactive manner.”

“Our initial actions -- I think, I hope -- demonstrate to our students and to our whole community that we take this really seriously. We are already engaged in work that will allow us to partner in new ways and better ways with students,” said Erica Caloiero, UVM’s interim vice provost for student affairs. “In the process of listening to students in recent days, we have learned a lot about what students need. We’ve learned that students need us to partner with them differently, and so, we’re doing that now.”

But students argue, the school’s response simply isn’t enough and fails to achieve justice for survivors. “It doesn’t take accountability at all,” Finkelstein said.

A Survivors Solidarity Walkout is scheduled for noon on Monday.

Burlington Police tell WCAX News, if a Burlington student reports sexual assault to the department, the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations (CUSI) takes the case. The organization says it is not aware of the widespread accusations on the UVM campus.

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