By Rosie Kean
On Nov. 8, President Loh sent out an email to this university’s community detailing the new “Joint President/Senate Task Force on Sexual Assault Prevention.” The vague email sparked confusion and frustration among some students, who gathered in Prince George’s Room for an open forum about the new task force.
More than 60 people gathered Nov. 17 to hear and provide suggestions for the university’s new task force aimed at preventing sexaul assault.
Eleven of the 16 task force members sat at the front of the room, listening to suggestions and concerns of attendees.
“One of the things we wanted to do as a task force was try not to spend a lot of time ourselves talking,” Steve Petkas, chairman of the task force, said. “We really wanted to hear from the members of the campus community.”
President of Preventing Sexual Assault, Alanna DeLeon, questioned President Loh’s dedication to preventing sexual assault on campus.
“Does President Loh himself take a training on sexual assault?” the senior community health major asked. The task force did not answer that question.
DeLeon thought Loh’s email showed a lack of care for addressing sexual assault on campus.
According to the Diamondback, Loh told the RHA Senate on Nov. 15 he is being held “personally responsible for expelling a student” for sexual misconduct, and his commitment to stopping sexual assault on campus “goes beyond providing resources for our office.”
Natasha Seraj, a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. in biochemistry, said she didn’t know what the task force was when she received the email from President Loh.
“It didn’t describe anything concrete, so it was more out of curiosity that I came here,” Seraj said.
During the forum, attendees brought up concerns and ideas for the task force to consider.
One common suggestion was to introduce in-person training for sexual assault prevention. Most of the people who spoke to the task force said the online training freshman currently receive is not adequate.
They believed in-person training for students, faculty and staff would be more effective, and training should be repeated to ensure students remember what they’ve learned.
“Even if it had to be a new training at the start of every academic year, it would be very appropriate and would be way better than doing these online trainings that nobody cares about,” DeLeon said.
Other concerns brought to the task force’s attention involved this university’s alerts. Those who spoke to the task force wanted them to keep in mind the person who was affected also receives the alert email, and it can cause negative consequences.
Several survivors of sexual assault shared their stories with the forum.
One survivor said her peers made fun of her traumatic experience of being approached by naked man while she was on a run. The wording of these UMD alerts can have the opposite effect than what the university police intended, even possibly encouraging other students to make light of the issue.
David Lloyd, a member of the task force and the UMPD, said “they try their best to get the information out there” as soon as possible so the university community is aware of the situation.
Another survivor said she decided not to report her assault because she didn’t want to be “one of those UMD alert girls.”
Speakers urged the task force to treat every case of sexual assault with sensitivity while maintaining the severity of the issue.
Petkas said he was pleased with the turnout and the discussion at the forum, but the task force does not have any definite plans yet.
“It’s literally too early for me to commit to anything,” he said. “Obviously several of the major thrusts have to do with consistent, reinforced and customized training.”
DeLeon had mixed feelings about the task force.
“I had the impression that they were defending themselves in a lot of circumstances, like with the UMD alerts,” DeLeon said. “But at least taking the stand, and being here, is great.”
Seraj said the forum was very open and inspiring, but she has her doubts about the task force as well.
“I’m a little skeptical to see what they’re going to do. Yeah, they’re taking these suggestions, but I don’t actually know if they’re going to follow through with it, so we’ll just wait and see,” Seraj said.
The task force will provide an update on its progress at a university Senate meeting early in the spring semester before a final report to the Senate in April, Petkas said.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Rival UMD on Facebook.
Rosie Kean is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.