Letter to the editor: UB students and faculty raise concerns about campus sexual violence

Dear President Tripathi,

We are writing regarding the university’s recent comments published in The Spectrum on Dec. 5, 2016, in which John Della Contrada indicated that sexual assault from an acquaintance, does not represent “an immediate threat.” Sexual violence is always an immediate threat for students. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), three quarters of sexual assaults are committed by people whom the victim knows, either as acquaintances or partners. Perpetrators of sexual violence are also likely to be repeat offenders, meaning they are indeed a threat to our campus and ability to pursue education in a safe and respectful environment with equal access as our cisgender male peers.

By not informing us of this assault, the University places its students in even more vulnerable positions. We have the right to know about sexual violence occurring in our student body. University police inform us of robberies that take place near campus even when those perpetrators do not pose a current threat. Your administration therefore places more value on physical possessions than your students’ bodily autonomy. Furthermore, the University is obligated under the Clery Act to inform us of threats to our safety. This is not reserved for mass shooters; sexual violence is a threat to us all and should be treated as such.

Some offices at the University are already doing great work to combat sexual violence. We would like to see these offices receive more support as well as a uniform policy on responding to sexual violence from the administration. We are pleased to learn that Freshman Orientation programs now include bystander intervention and consent workshops. UB should also be proud for pioneering the affirmative consent policy that all SUNY schools have now adopted. However, the University can do more to protect and inform its students throughout their time on this campus.

I, the principal writer, teach a course in the Global Gender Studies department on gendered violence. Many of my 30 students in the Fall 2016 semester has faced some kind of sexual violence or harassment, often on campus. To hear sexual violence is not taken seriously in this administration is disheartening. This is a problem for our campus. Your office sets the expectations for our campus culture. Promoting the ideas that sexual violence is not serious, will not incur consequences, and is not a threat emboldens those who have or would commit acts of violence. We understand the University’s policy on sexual assault is strict; those found guilty face either expulsion or suspension. However, most universities tend to not find alleged rapists guilty and we do not know how this policy is implemented at the University at Buffalo. We would ask the University to publicize this policy and to set a better tone regarding sexual assault than what The Spectrum reports from the administration.

We urge your administration to do the following:

● Release a formal statement apologizing for trivializing sexual violence.

● Make a commitment to treat sexual violence appropriately in the future.

● Create a policy to always inform the campus community of sexual assaults.

● Dedicate more resources to University offices already doing great work in this area, specifically the Wellness Education Center and the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

● Hire more and highly qualified people in these offices dedicated to responding to and recording sexual assaults in the campus community.

● Maintain and distribute an annual sexual misconduct report that includes the results of those complaints.

● Increase services and support for survivors of campus sexual assault.


Hilary Vandenbark

Ph.D Candidate, Global Gender Studies

And 92 co-signers in the UB community