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By Victoria Rossetti, Rebecca Barton, and Stephanie Naranjo
To the UConn Community:
This letter is in response to the events surrounding Carolyn Luby’s open letter and the backlash she received, but it is also about a larger issue. This is a statement to the entire community at UConn. It is a call to action for students to take back our campus to make it a safe space, to form a strong community of allies among different groups and organizations, and to confront the violence that affects us all. It is a call to the administration of the University of Connecticut to use this moment to reflect on campus priorities. We all need to understand that violence is a re-occurring element on our campus and will continue to manifest itself if the entirety of the UConn community (students, staff, faculty, administration) does not stand together in solidarity.
And finally, this is a letter to President Susan Herbst. We address you directly because, as President, you are representing the entire UConn community. At this moment, we the students are asking you to make a statement showing your support against violence on our campus and to stand behind that statement despite the difficulties it might create.
We understand that as President, you have prioritized loyalties. You have a responsibility to uphold the reputation of the university, but you also have a responsibility to support all your students, as they are also affiliated with the university. When you speak for UConn, you speak on behalf of us all. When you remain silent, you delegitimize us.
We ask that you acknowledge the existence of violence on our campus in all its forms and work towards its end, whether it is in regards to sexual assault, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, class struggle, religious intolerance, or ableism. When you do not respond to violence with condemnation, it appears as though you are accepting and sanctioning it.
Please denounce violence on campus by a) making a strong statement acknowledging the forms of violence we know to be prevalent on campus; b) stop prioritizing the students considered important due to athletic prowess or privilege, and by granting those students who have been silenced and made invisible by the ableist, capitalist, heteronormative, nationalistic, and classist structures greater visibility, and greater concern; c) no longer placing importance only on commercial enterprises, which create fringe groups with no share in this commercialized vision.
We want to clarify that our call for understanding and action is not centered on Luby’s letter, but is a branch of the same argument, which is a representation of the overall culture of violence embedded in our community. Our intentions are to provide you with a clear understanding of what Luby’s true messages are in order to recognize the issues that the UConn administration needs to take seriously.
We agree with Luby that the lack of emphasis the administration puts on issues of violence against women needs to change. She never accused the University of creating and promoting a logo that evokes rape, but rather points out that UConn has recently focused on rebranding the university with a new logo rather than targeting its attitudes toward stopping the violence. The negative backlash seen on websites like Barstool only reinforces Luby’s claims re: rape culture and other forms of violence. Luby’s letter has been completely misconstrued because of the lack of understanding. We want to clarify that misunderstanding.
This is not just a feminist issue or a feminist cause; this issue belongs to everyone. What occurred on Barstool is only a symptom of an ongoing problem; it is a visible outpouring of the violence that is usually more subtly expressed. The anonymity and mob mentality of the forum of Barstool combined to create a place where this violence ruptured in a more extreme form than usual because the participants felt confident that there would be no serious repercussions.
Thus far, the university has made only token actions to address this issue. This is unacceptable; the silence only tells the aggressors that their actions are acceptable, and also sends the message to other victims that the university does not and will not support them publicly through direct action. The refusal of the President to make a personal statement suggests that President Herbst does not believe this is a serious or important problem.
The university has failed Carolyn Luby, and has failed all past, current, and future victims of sexual violence or harassment. Although the university is not the originator of these violences, it is an enabler, and it is a part of the broader structure that replicates them.
In order for the University of Connecticut to stop legitimizing these forms of violences, it needs to break its silence. We need to hear that the university condemns homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, sexism, classism, racism, ableism, religious intolerance, and harassment of all varieties. It is our opinion that if the president can send an email encouraging students to help beautify the campus by picking up trash, then she can also send out an email condemning violence and promoting community awareness and accountability. If every student took responsibility — not only for their own actions but also for the actions of those around them, the campus would truly be a more beautiful place.
We acknowledge that we are the product of rape culture, but we reject the perpetuation of the same. We haven’t reacted to this situation in rage, out of fear, or out of pain. Instead, we are acting out of careful deliberation to avoid a continuance of the violence we are submerged in.
We highly encourage all future students, faculty, staff, and alumni to continue to support those who step forward to speak about the violences perpetrated against them. We encourage others to speak up in support of those affected, and, when the situation arises, to take action against violence in all its forms.
Stephanie Naranjo is a UConn senior who will be graduating in May 2013. She is an English major and is working on a WGSS minor.
Victoria Rossetti is a UConn senior English major with a minor in WGSS. She has been published in Long River Review and UConn Today. Victoria will be graduating in May 2013.
Rebecca Barton is a UConn junior. Becky is double majoring in sociology and WGSS.