Editor’s Note: These letters to the editor both cover the topic of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month bulletin board that was posted in the Lower Level of the John A. Barone Campus Center. The first letter is from a student and the second letter is from a staff member. For more information, see the story in the News section here.
Isabel de Leon, ’21
To Whom It May Concern:
Firstly, I think it is important to acknowledge the suicide prevention campaign that Fairfield University took part in recently. Students all across campus who suffer from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts were reminded constantly that “Fairfield U Cares.” Bracelets were given out, fliers and posters were put up and resources were offered to those who may have needed it. Fairfield University took a very serious approach to a very serious topic, and this is commendable.
As you may already know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As a survivor of rape and sexual assault, this is a topic that I take very seriously. So, I’m sure you can understand my shock and dismay when I saw the half-hearted attempt at acknowledging this issue. On April 1, 2019 I noticed a bulletin board in the Lower Level of the Barone Campus Center that was put up to call attention to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The board, which I’m sure many of the student body and faculty/staff saw, was a childish reference to Finding Nemo, with one sole quote that read “Don’t Touch the Butt.” I found it imperative that I immediately draft this letter, expressing my discomfort and outrage with this display.
Not only does this bulletin board make a mockery of assault victims all over campus, involved in situations both reported and unreported, but it also minimizes sexual assault to touching someone’s butt. Sexual assault is much more than that, and survivors would rather the school not make a joke of their pain. Furthermore, upon inquiry, I was told that the office responsible for this particular bulletin board was the office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. This felt like a second slap across the face of survivors. The very office that was supposedly designed for inclusion and acceptance was the office responsible for making a mockery of my, and many other girls’, experiences.
Unfortunately, I cannot unsee this bulletin board. Peers of mine who have survived rape or assault cannot unsee it. And, all those who have not experienced sexual assault cannot unsee it. What that bulletin board just did was further promote rape culture on campus. That bulletin board made it okay for all those who haven’t experienced it to laugh at our pain, or make light of our abuse. It showed us that while “Fairfield U Cares” about suicide prevention, they care less, if at all, about sexual assault.
I ask that the Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs remove this board entirely and immediately. It would be fairly easy to highlight Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention by just posting tips for young women on campus or facts about sexual assault on college campuses. There are many ways to provide a visual display that is both informative and empowering without offending survivors of sexual assault.
I do not know the process of approval for these boards, nor do I know whose idea this particular board was. And while I find it absolutely deplorable that this even happened, I want to also stress that they are not the only people at fault or to blame. Any Fairfield University student, faculty or staff member that walked by, saw this, and said nothing in protest is at fault and to blame. Any person that stood by and did nothing while this stood on the walls of our school for days is partly responsible for the rape culture that exists on our campus today.
Isabel de Leon, ’21
Ophelie Rowe Allen, Director of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs
Dear Students of Fairfield University,
The Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs would like to issue a formal apology to the students of Fairfield University regarding a bulletin board that was created to raise awareness of sexual assault during the month of April. As an Office, we always strive to create a culture of inclusiveness, by allowing students the opportunity to opine, reflect and discuss the challenges they are facing today across a wide range of topics. In this instance, the design and content of the board did not appropriately reflect the values of this Office.
The Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs would like to continue this important conversation about sexual assault, consistent with this Office’s values of creating a culture of awareness and understanding. We invite you to stop by the office to engage in a dialogue with the Director, Dr. Ophelia Rowe Allen and the Associate Director, Dr. Romina Pacheco of the Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs office next Monday, April 15 at 5:00 pm. There will also be a luncheon on consent, April 15 at 12 pm in the SDMA office.
Fairfield University (and the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs) takes the issue of sexual assault very seriously, consistent with the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Non-Discrimination Policy. The Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, together with other partners on campus, will continue to educate and stimulate appropriate discussion about this important subject across our campus.
Ophelie Rowe Allen
Director of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs