An Open Letter to UConn Students – The Feminist Wire

An Open Letter to UConn Students

By Judy Rohrer

I am choosing the form of an open letter as a tribute to the courage UConn student Carolyn Luby showed when she issued her open letter to President Susan Herbst last April, critiquing the corporatization of the university at the expense of attention to systemic issues of violence.

I am one of three faculty members who publicly supported Carolyn in the backlash after publication of her open letter. All three of us were untenured. We supported Carolyn, we worked with students who were organizing demonstrations, and we wrote a call to action that we circulated via email and on The Feminist Wire.  Two of us, including me, were at UConn in non-permanent positions in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies (WGSS), and we both have moved to other institutions. Dr. Heather Turcotte, who holds a joint Assistant Professor position in WGSS and Political Science, has recently been told by senior faculty in her departments that she is not being recommended for reappointment. Heather has been herculean in her efforts on behalf of Carolyn and the other students. She continues to work with, and advocate for, the students despite the lack of support from senior faculty. Indeed, the silence—and therefore complicity—on this issue from faculty continues to be deafening.

But I am not writing to point fingers. Those faculty members who are not using the power they have, or worse, misusing it, know who they are–and students always know.

What I miss about UConn are the students, particularly those I had in my WGSS classes. The incredible disappointment I feel in faculty (not to mention Herbst’s ridiculous and dangerous responses), is thankfully countered by the inspiration I take from the student activism that has only grown and become stronger since April.  That activism is spreading nationally–check out Know Your Title IX.

Here’s what I want to say to UConn students:

  • What is happening at UConn is an excellent example of institutional oppression and violence. We studied that in class, and now you are living it. It’s up to you to decide how you will respond.
  • Most big institutional changes in universities (women’s studies, ethnic studies, disability studies, cultural centers, LGBT student support, fair pay for staff, etc.) have come through student struggles.
  • You have more power than you know. You are smart and committed. You have numbers. You pay tuition. You are savvy, and all over social media!  And, you are infiltrated into every aspect of UConn, save the highest administrative offices (and even those are vulnerable to your just action and outrage).
  • I am sorry I am no longer there to stand alongside you, but I, and many others, are supporting from afar. UConn’s administration cannot blanket your courage. What happens at UConn doesn’t stay at UConn. You are making news and gaining solidarity from California to Kentucky. Go (old Jonathan style) Huskies!

Dr. Judy Rohrer


Open Letter to UConn Students

Dr. Judy Rohrer at the “Paint the Rock” rally in May 2013, supporting Carolyn Luby and critiquing violent campus culture and university corporatization

Judy Rohrer  earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Hawai’i in 2005.  After the completion of her B.A. and during her graduate studies, she worked for progressive nonprofits and activist organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She is an interdisciplinary scholar with interests in indigenous studies, critical race studies, feminist theory, LGBTQ studies/queer theory, and disability studies. Her first book, Haoles in Hawai’i, was published in 2010 through the University of Hawai’i Press. She is currently the Director of the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility (ICSR) and an Assistant Professor in Diversity and Community Studies at Western Kentucky University.