Storrs — University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst has changed her tone in her response to accusations that officials show “deliberate indifference” toward students who are sexually assaulted.
“As long as there is a single sexual assault at any of our campuses, our work is not complete,” she told her governing board Wednesday morning. “At the Oct. 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 have been made. I was not.”
Herbst’s comments followed complaints by seven students about the university’s handling of their sexual assaults and a civil lawsuit in federal court. State lawmakers are set to hold an informational hearing at the state Capitol complex on the topic this afternoon.
The president’s comments also follow students and newspaper editorial boards around the state criticizing what seemed to be Herbst’s dismissive attitude toward the students at the Board of Trustees’ last meeting.
“The suggestion that the University of Connecticut, as an institution, would somehow be indifferent to or dismissive of any report of sexual assault is astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue,” Herbst said last month two days after the students announced they had filed the complaint. (Read her full remarks from October here. Read her remarks today here.)
Those statements were made an issue by the students in the lawsuit.
“President Herbst’s response made me feel invalidated all over again,” said student Rose Richi, who said she was raped in a UConn dormitory by a university football player. Richi said when she informed the director of the Women’s Center, who is mandated by law to report such offenses she learns about to authorities, no report was ever made. Richi also said that when she decided to go to the UConn Police Department herself, the officer told her he didn’t believe her story.
For Kylie Angell, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, the president’s remarks “triggered for me all the trauma I had experienced at the university. The same sinking sense of betrayal I felt when reading her dismissive and demeaning address is one too familiar to me.. [I] felt like I was re-experiencing the trauma incurred by the university’s failure to protect me all over again.”
Herbst’s comments Wednesday focused on sympathy for victims.
“Let me be as clear as I can be. The fact is that we commend anyone, especially our students, who are working to raise awareness and understanding about the issues of sexual assault,” she said during a five-minute prepared statement to the UConn Board of Trustees. “We feel nothing but heartfelt compassion for every victim of sexual violence and we will never stop working to keep our students safe… We always strive to be completely accountable to all we serve.”
Gloria Allred, the attorney for the UConn students, said it’s clear Herbst is “backtracking” from her orignial comments.
“She said what she meant and she meant what she said,” Allred told reporters at the state Capitol complex after testifying. “She can backpeddle all she wants.”
Herbst does not plan to testify before the legislators today, though three UConn officials will be there to take questions.
Herbst declined to take questions from reporters from The Connecticut Mirror and The Hartford Courant at the meeting Wednesday.
“No, not today,” she responded.
President Herbst’s full remarks Oct. 23.