Concerned about the University of Richmond’s handling of sexual-assault cases and how it addresses the issue, about 250 students, faculty, alumni and community members packed into a program on campus Thursday night.
They wouldn't leave.
By the time the event was supposed to end, most of the crowd had walked out in protest -- or refused to go.
Administrators started off the evening by saying there would be no question and answer session, and that they would entertain questions in another room afterward. But as the prepared program ended, few audience members appeared willing to budge.
“I am shocked and appalled that anyone could reference this event as a dialogue,” Melissa Dart said, referring to how the event was promoted. “This was a monologue. People aren’t here for the blue shirts.”
The 1993 graduate gestured toward a table of free shirts that read, “It Ends Now.”
UR student Cecilia “C.C.” Carreras, who attended the event, also referenced one of those shirts in a story she published Tuesday, Sept. 6, on the Huffington Post website.
In that story and a follow-up the next day, Carreras criticized the University of Richmond for mishandling her accusation of rape by a fellow student and athlete in July 2015. The articles have drawn a national spotlight to the university, like a number of similar high-profile cases on college campuses across the country.
The university’s student newspaper, The Collegian, reported Tuesday that Carreras had filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and was waiting to hear from lawyers in its office for civil rights.
“Why are you trying to hide it?” another audience member called out. Others expressed their disbelief that the accused still attended the school.
“I feel so much of the hurt and pain of people for feeling there’s a sense of hiding, of wanting to sweep things under the rug,” said Steve Bisese, the university’s vice president of student development.
Prepared remarks by administrators and student groups at the annual sexual assault prevention event, scheduled months before Carreras’ articles were published, stressed community support and confidential services for victims.
The upshot of those confidential, internal services was on full display during the question and answer session, where administrators repeatedly stated that they couldn’t comment on individual cases.
“Sir, he admitted raping her. And he plays football for us,” a first-year law student said of Carrerras’ story. “I feel like I have everything I need to know.”
In her published accounts of the incidents, Carrerras didn’t name the sport played by her accused rapist. On a Facebook page for university alumni, plans were being discussed for a protest at today’s home football game, and some alumni had signed an online petition.
The dean of Westhampton College, Mia Genoni, took the lead for much of the two-hour question and answer session. Audience members noted that she joined the university in July, long after the incidents under investigation.
Genoni assured the audience she was aware of all the facts of the case and stood by the administration’s decisions.
“So what you’re saying is that the context [that you can’t tell us] would make it not rape?” Darden said.
“We can’t even say if that’s what we’re saying,” Genoni replied.
While UR is co-ed, it offers a coordinated college system in which students are enrolled in a residential college, for men or women, and a co-ed academic school. Women fall under Westhampton College, men under Richmond College.
Maura Smith, the university’s Title IX coordinator, who was named in Carreras’ articles as a participant in the investigation, was among the four administrators who stayed to take questions, along with Bisese and Genoni.
A medical issue was cited for the absence of Richmond College Dean Daniel Fabian, who also serves as a deputy Title IX coordinator.
Three issues dominated the discussion: Carreras’ testimonial evidence that her rapist acknowledged hearing her say “stop” three times while they were having sex, Carreras’ allegation that Fabian dismissed her account with a reference to giving the attacker time “to finish,” and the administration’s letter of response to the article, which called Carreras’ statements “inaccurate.”
Several alumni and at least one professor, publicly, have decried the letter and its refusal to discuss details of the incident while casting Carreras’ published account as inaccurate. That letter led to Carreras publishing a more detailed story in response.
The letter also invited students and members of the university community members to come to the Thursday event.
Style attended, but learned later that media outlets other than the student newspaper were barred from the event. WRIC-TV 8 said its reporter and photographer were asked to leave, and the Times-Dispatch said it was told the event was closed to media. One student streamed the event live using Periscope.
Soon into the questions, while Genoni spoke, Carreras left the room. A few minutes later, about half of those in attendance left the room too, including many of the student leaders who spoke in the beginning.
Rennie Harrison, a junior, cited the discrepancy between the earlier presentations’ focus on believing the victim and the shift into talking about context. “Calling [her statement] inaccurate lends to not believing the victim,” Harrison said.
“If I’d received the information you all had received, I’d be in a similar place as you all,” Genoni said. “There’s a lot of context to that statement you don’t know and you will never know because of privacy.”
“We need you to trust us,” Genoni said, stressing that the administration stood by Fabian and the outcome of the investigation.
“How many students found guilty of rape have been kicked off campus?” Harrison asked later. “More than zero?”
Administrators couldn’t give specific numbers but promised them “in a couple weeks.”
University president Ronald Crutcher was not there, and has taken heat for his absence from speaking to the issue. But on Friday he issued a letter to the university, as published in The Collegian.
In it, he shares information on university resources to address the issue and seeks feedback, writing: “I will report back to the University community by Fall Break based on input received by September 30 and will consult with student, faculty, staff, administrative, and alumni leadership in shaping action steps emerging from the input.”
Administrators deny Fabian saying what Carreras alleges in the September 2015 meeting. “We would not have folks who would do something like that,” Bisese said.
“I can unequivocally say that that sentence is disgusting,” said Genoni, who was Carreras’ dean. “We are stuck in a situation where we can’t say more. But that sentence was not said. We went back and listened, talked to him. We support him.”
Audience members thinned from the room as the night went on and about 50 remained by the end. But resolution was elusive.
“You have to trust the process,” Maura Smith said.
The next day, Genoni sent an email to students apologizing and calling for change, The Collegian reported, postponing an annual event for students called Proclamation Night. It also set a Sept. 12 forum for women in Westhampton College, and The Collegian reported a similar one would be held for Richmond College.
Additional reporting by Jason Roop.
Editor's note: This story corrects the spelling of Melissa Dart's last name. Style regrets the error.