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UVM students march in protest of sex assaults, lack of support

Published: May. 3, 2021 at 5:35 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The University of Vermont says it’s listening to the demands of students over the school’s response to sexual assault on campus.

More than 1,000 UVM students walked out of class on Monday in a march for survivor solidarity.

And after facing criticism from students, the school wants survivors to know that they believe them and are taking action.

Students gathered Monday morning on the UVM campus as a part of a Survivor Solidarity Walkout.

“At this point, survivors and allies feel that the structures in place for dealing with sexual assault are completely inadequate,” said Cobalt Tolbert of the UVM Union of Students.

Holding signs and chanting, the students marched through campus.

Protesters weaved their way through campus blocking traffic and blocking traffic on Main Street for at least 10 minutes as they made their way to the Waterman building where they continue chanting.

The walkout was sparked last week when a student named Athena Hendrick-Kelly made a social media post outlining the experience in dealing with campus support services after reporting a sexual assault. Hendrick-Kelly was a speaker at the protest on Monday.

“I have been feeling so much anger,” she said.

That post was followed by an outpouring of similar allegations and is what led to the walkout and calls for change.

Hendrick-Kelly’s mother was at the rally.

“I’m very grateful for the support and the acknowledgment of her message,” Erin Kelly said.

But students also want support from the school, starting with an acknowledgment of the severity of the problem.

“We also need such a cultural shift that I think can only happen when so many people are involved in that conversation,” said Syd Ovitt, a UVM senior.

“I want survivors to know that we believe them,” said Erica Caloiero, the interim vice provost for student affairs.

The school’s response-- they are taking action on a list of demands from students.

“We responded to the student demands that we received and we were able to respond in the affirmative to each one,” Caloiero said.

That includes increased support services and a focus on prevention.

“I think where we are really focused is that we want the same things as students,” Caloiero said. “We want a campus that feels safe.”

The school says it will continue to work with students and they can expect resources and supports to be more available starting next semester.

The list of demands from students are as follows:

1. UVM conduct an independent investigation into the UVM’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Title IX Office, including the Title IX Coordinator, Deputy IX Coordinator, Title IX Intake and Outreach Coordinator, and all investigators to restore the UVM student body’s trust.

UVM’s Response: “We agree to conduct an independent audit of the office.”

2. The Title IX Office seeks to better and more effectively advertise to UVM students that the Title IX Office can help students outside of a formal reporting process.

UVM’s Response: “We agree to enhanced advertising of the Title IX Office and its services for
students.”

3. The UVM administration hires between three-four more Campus Victims Advocates to serve as confidential counselors to all undergraduate student survivors of sexual misconduct effective Fall 2021.

UVM’s Response: “The university agrees that there should be victims advocates available 24/7/365 to
provide support for students. We are developing a partnership with HOPE Works to
be sure this resource is available.”

4. UVM administration seeks to review a diverse pool of Campus Victims’ Advocates, as sexual violence affects all UVM students including BIPOC, AAPI, LGBTQ+, and male-identifying individuals on our campus.

UVM’s Response: “Yes, as part of our partnership with HOPE Works, we will ensure that we can offer a
more diverse group of advocates.”

5. UVM establish a Sexual Violence Response Team as a part of the University’s Student Health Services Department. The Sexual Violence Response Team must include 5 employees including a Director, an Assistant Director, and three to four Campus Victims’ Advocates effective fall 2021.

UVM’s Response: “The university supports a team approach, as you outline.”

6. Every counselor employed through UVM Counseling and Psychiatric Service (CAPS) undergo annual training on how to support survivors of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment.

UVM’s Response: “The university agrees to ensure that CAPS counselors are trained on how to support survivors of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment.”

7. All those employed by UVM Police are required to undergo annual training on sexual violence, domestic violence, gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and stalking in order to better support all student survivors at UVM, annual training should result in all members of the UVM Police to be able to effectively communicate on-campus and off-campus resources available to students at the University.

UVM’s Response: “We agree to continue our comprehensive training for UVM police.”

8. UVM’s Department of Residential Life requires all Residential Advisors to undergo sexual violence and harassment training each semester to understand how to effectively support students and to be

able to effectively communicate on-campus resources available to students at the University.

UVM’s Response: “We agree.”

9. UVM create a 24/7, 365 day-a-year hotline specifically for student survivors of sexual violence and harassment.

UVM’s Response: “We agree and commit to providing this service.”

10. We encourage UVM to research, review, and create an internship or volunteer program for undergraduate students in the College of Education and Social Services who are interested in gaining

experience in the field of sexual violence advocacy and hope to support student survivors. We encourage Response & Prevention Center which provides undergraduate students with these opportunities.

UVM’s Response: “We encourage UVM administrators to refer to Boston University Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center which provides undergraduate students with these opportunities. We will review the Boston University example you reference and explore ways to add to our existing internship offerings through CESS.”

11. UVM continues to fund, support, and advertise the UVM LiveSafe App throughout Academic Year 2022 as the App allows students to report sexual violence or harassment privately from their phone with the option to attach videos, audio files, and pictures if they choose.

UVM’s Response: “We agree.”

12. The Vice Provost for Student Affairs and UVM Title IX Director review every survey response given by UVM Students in the survey created by Explain The Asterisk founder and Title IX Student Advisory Committee member, Sydney Ovitt, in order to effectively understand the University’s systemic failure to support survivors of sexual violence on our campus thus far.

UVM’s Response: “We agree to review the survey responses.”

13. The Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life enforce every recognized UVM Fraternity to attend sexual violence, harassment, or healthy relationship training once each semester, and report their chapter attendance rates on the UVM lynx. Should Fraternity attendance rates fall below 70% for 2 consecutive semesters, we demand that the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life place said Fraternity on probation effective immediately.

UVM’s Response: “We agree.”

14. Director of Athletics, Jeff Schulman, require all UVM sports teams to attend sexual violence, harassment, or healthy relationship training at least once each semester.

UVM’s Response: “We agree.”

15. Student Government Association, henceforth referred to as SGA, attend sexual violence, harassment, and/or healthy relationship training at least once each semester.

UVM’s Response: “We agree.”

16. UVM SGA requires all SGA clubs and organizations to complete sexual violence, harassment, and/or healthy relationship training annually to retain SGA recognition.

UVM’s Response: “We agree.”

17. The UVM Title IX Advisory Committee continue to meet throughout the Summer and Fall of 2021 with the Title IX Intake and Outreach Coordinator and Vice Provost for Student Affairs to assess current sexual violence prevention and healthy relationship education efforts and recommend enhancements, including enhancements that extend beyond students’ first year.

UVM’s Response: “We agree. We are encouraged by the collaboration and progress of recent meetings and will work with students to develop a schedule for ongoing dialogue.”

IN CLOSING UVM SAYS:

“We recognize the responsibility all of us share for maintaining a safe

and healthy campus environment. We believe these measures (and others

already in place) will send a clear message to every member of the UVM

community that we have a plan for working together. Like you, we believe

that continued conversation is essential to create meaningful change.”

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

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