Institutional Failure

An open letter to UO Interim President Scott Coltrane

In your Jan. 8 email to the UO community, “A message from Interim President Coltrane on sexual assault lawsuit” [see], you indicated that you welcome feedback from the campus on your progress. I agree with the open letter provided here by OASA [see]. I would like to express my additional concerns.

The purported shared goal of UO and its constituents is two-fold: 1) to prevent the experience of sexual violence and 2) to respond appropriately when such violence does occur.

Up to this point, with inclusion of the email you delivered Jan. 8, the UO has both refused to acknowledge any culpability for both the reported distress by the student described in the email and the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence on this campus.

Case in point: You have taken the time to write a disparaging email about a current lawsuit from a current student.

I am confused as to how the email you sent on Jan. 8 — a one-sided, punitive response to a lawsuit in which a student alleges institutional failures to prevent and respond appropriately to sexual violence — is consistent with your public position that the university must improve prevention and response efforts? Instead, your email is likely to both discourage students from reporting sexual violence and punish those students who do identify problems within the system.

These institutional failures cannot continue to be publicly denied as research is showing that approximately 20 students are sexually assaulted each and every week on this campus. How in good conscience can you, as interim president, continue to publicly and forcefully defend the practices at UO? Approximately 20 new incidents of sexual violence a week cannot possibly be indicative of a safe campus; therefore, our shared goals are far from being met. Any statement that implies otherwise is irresponsible and inaccurate.

I am additionally disgusted by the scope of your Jan. 8 email: How can you possibly both disparage a student while pledging support for that same student in one email? It is disgraceful and shameful.

Since May 2014 I have received UO’s public responses about sexual violence. Time and again, I have given you and your colleagues the benefit of the doubt: I have told myself, “They just do not understand how sexual violence works.” Your last public email to the campus community suggests to me that I was wrong. I now believe you do know how this works. With the results from Professor Jennifer Freyd and her colleagues’ campus climate survey alone, you must have some insight of how your leadership affects the institutional culture of sexual violence on this campus. If you remain unaware, there are a plethora of resources on this campus — not the least of which are the as-yet unacted upon recommendations of the Committee on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence — to inform you of how sharing the email you sent on Jan. 8 could be both particularly damaging and antithetical to the shared goals mentioned above.

In an effort to mitigate the harm you have caused through this email, I request that you apologize for this public communication to:

1) the student in question — for behavior that stands in direct contrast to making our campus a safe place for all members of our community, including those who cite problems in the system;

2) other students on campus who have been victims of sexual violence — for publicly creating an additional deterrent to coming forward following sexual assault and treating those who do as lesser members of our community; and

3) the UO community — for betraying the trust and dependence we have in this institution with messages that foster an institutional culture of silence and punishment that undoubtedly hinders the campuswide efforts to address sexual violence.

At the very least, I plead to your humanity that if nothing else, you cease to continue to betray the UO community and its members with these public statements of mindless defense of a system that is clearly broken.

Instead of watching a Ducks sporting event (as you suggested in an email you sent on Nov. 28, 2014, regarding the GTFF impending strike), I will instead mourn for all the students on this campus who continue to be punished into silence following being sexually assaulted. — Jennifer M. Gómez