Students: 'UMBC Protects Rapists'

Students flood Maryland-Baltimore County administration building to demand new policies around campus sexual assault.

September 19, 2018

Students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, stormed the administration building and confronted the president this week, irate over the institution’s handling of sexual assaults. They accused officials of defending rapists and demanded that a contingent of students be removed or suspended.

The display stems from a federal lawsuit filed last week by two former UMBC students who said they were raped but that their reports were bungled or ignored. In one case, a student alleged that UMBC police discouraged her from filing a formal complaint and that the institution rushed the investigation. The other student said she was gang-raped by three UMBC baseball players who, she said, escaped punishment. A lawyer for the two women (whom Inside Higher Ed is not naming as victims of sexual assault) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to suing UMBC administrators and the University System of Maryland, the plaintiffs have named as defendants several Baltimore County officials, including the Baltimore County state’s attorney. They also named the county police department, which was the subject of an explosive 2016 BuzzFeed investigation that found it did not thoroughly investigate rape cases and had labeled 34 percent of them “unfounded.” The national average is only 7 percent. BuzzFeed’s report prompted a review of department practices and cases.

Students began their protest on the UMBC grounds Monday evening and moved to the administration building -- over the weekend, the campus had been papered with posters proclaiming, “UMBC protects rapists.”

The activists had printed out a list of demands, among them that Paul Dillon, UMBC’s chief of police, be removed “for his failure to enact justice” and “fear tactics” against sexual assault survivors. The students also pressed for the suspension of multiple other officials, including a coordinator of campus sexual assault investigations, the head baseball coach and a program associate for diversity and inclusion.

As they piled into a tight conference room on Monday night to meet with UMBC president Freeman A. Hrabowski III -- an impromptu move, as a sit-in was not planned -- the students read their demands and asked for an apology from all upper-level administrators. For more than an hour, students questioned and criticized Hrabowski -- in one particularly tense exchange, a former UMBC student and local reporter for the Baltimore Post-Examiner, an online news outlet, accused him of knowing of the sexual assault issues on campus for more than a year, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Hrabowski offered an apology and told the group he was proud of them.

“Clearly we have not done a good enough job,” he said.

Among the group's other demands: that the university hire a nationally recognized sexual assault survivor group to consult on new policies, that all students undergo mandated sexual assault prevention education, that students accused of sexual misconduct be suspended from athletics and other leadership roles and that health services be revamped to stay open 24 hours. The students also want nurses to be trained in administering rape kits.

University spokeswoman Dinah Winnick did not immediately answer Inside Higher Ed’s question (via email) about whether the president would honor the students’ demands.

“Over the past few days, we have had important dialogue with students about campus response to sexual misconduct reports,” Winnick wrote in an email. “Our focus now is on listening so that we can build relationships and work together to develop and implement solutions that help us live out our community values.”

UMBC junior John Platter, who is also executive director of the LGBT Student Union, was one of the protest leaders. Platter, himself a sexual assault survivor, said the institution mishandled his case -- though he was intoxicated and said he couldn't consent at the time of the incident, officials didn’t have enough evidence to find the accused student responsible, he said. Platter met with Hrabowski and other administrators over the weekend and said he and the activists had walked away feeling “anxious.”

Platter said he believes Hrabowski was “intrigued” by the number of students who protested on Monday and that they will effect some change.

“Obviously we can’t leave the university to its own devices,” Platter said. “Any change the university makes on its own may not be enough. We have to make sure that the university prioritizes the safety of survivors.”

Platter has met with the Undergraduate Senate, which will consider drafting legislation to support the student coalition, Platter said. He intends to do the same with other university governing bodies.

Officials have already scheduled a town hall for Thursday to discuss sexual misconduct on campus. UMBC posted a statement over the weekend acknowledging the lawsuit. While officials could not comment on specifics of the case, the statement said, “it is essential to state that our campus is committed to safety and respect for all people and takes matters related to sexual misconduct very seriously.”

Last week, the university had sponsored a training for students, professors and staffers on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal gender antidiscrimination lawsuit barring sexual violence on campus. The university said 125 people attended.


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