Questions about how the University of Richmond handles sexual-assault accusations on campus are gaining steam — and administrators appear to be taking heed, accelerating their response in recent days.
It started Tuesday, Sept. 6, when UR student Cecilia “C.C.” Carreras published a story on the Huffington Post website. In it, she criticizes the university for mishandling her accusation of rape by a fellow student and athlete in July 2015.
The university’s student newspaper, The Collegian, reported 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.
Those stories and follow-ups drew a national spotlight to the university, like a number of similar high-profile cases on college campuses across the country.
At a Thursday night event on campus called It Ends Now — scheduled long before Carreras made her complaints public — about 250 students, faculty, alumni and community members packed into the annual sexual assault prevention program.
By the time the event was supposed to end, most of the crowd had walked out in protest — or refused to go.
“I am shocked and appalled that anyone could reference this event as a dialogue,” said Melissa Dart, a 1993 graduate. “This was a monologue.”
“Why are you trying to hide it?” another audience member called out. Others expressed their disbelief that the accused student still attended the university.
Prepared remarks by administrators and student groups 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,” a first-year law student said of Carreras’ story. “I feel like I have everything I need to know.”
The dean of Westhampton College, Mia Genoni, took the lead for much of the two-hour question and answer session. Despite joining the university this summer, after the incidents under investigation, Genoni assured the audience that she was aware of 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?” Dart asked.
“We can’t even say if that’s what we’re saying,” Genoni replied.
Three issues dominated the discussion: Carreras’ testimony that her attacker acknowledged hearing her say “stop” three times during the encounter, Carreras’ allegation that Dean Daniel Fabian dismissed her account with a reference to giving the man time “to finish,” and the administration’s letter of response to her initial Huffington Post article, which called Carreras’ statements “inaccurate.”
Scores of 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’ second article in the Huffington Post.
The letter also invited students and members of the university community to attend the Thursday event. But Style learned after attending that the forum had been off-limits to outside news media. A reporter and photographer at WRIC-TV 8 were turned away, and The Richmond Times-Dispatch was told the forum was closed.
The university has not returned inquires by Style.
Fabian, the deputy Title IX coordinator, did not attend, and administrators cited a medical issue for his absence.
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.”
Administrators deny that Fabian said what Carreras alleges in the September 2015 meeting. “I can unequivocally say that that sentence is disgusting,” said Genoni, who is 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.”
In the following days, a number of ripples went out, as reported by The Collegian.
The next day, Genoni sent an email to students, writing that she was “truly and deeply sorry for the pain I have caused you,” and calling for change. She encouraged attendance at further forums scheduled this week on the topic of sexual assault.
Also Friday, the university’s president, Ronald Crutcher, issued his first campus-wide comments on the controversy. He said he recognized the concerns, sought feedback and cited “extensive and comprehensive programs” in place.
Crutcher also wrote that he stood behind the university’s “thorough and impartial investigation and hearing process, in which no student receives preferential treatment” in instances of sexual misconduct.
In his letter, Crutcher also commits to funding “a permanent position dedicated to sexual misconduct education and prevention.” The former coordinator of such efforts left in August, with a grant that funded the position set to expire within the year.
Concerned alumni have continued to discuss the matter, and were circulating a Change.org petition that had gained more than 2,500 signatures Monday, calling for the establishment of a sexual assault response and prevention center.
At Saturday’s home football game, some students were clad in blue “It Ends Now” shirts and held signs in support of Carreras.
And as student forums were being prepared on the topic of sexual assault this week, The Collegian reported yesterday that the university’s Kappa Alpha Order had been suspended following an email sent out to students in advance of fraternity row’s opening weekend: “Tonight’s the type of night that makes fathers afraid to send their daughters away to school,” reads the email, as reported in The Collegian. “Let’s get it.”