Fractured Transparency at our University

Marissa Jasso is a junior English major.

headshotOn Nov. 3, junior nursing student and Phelan Hall resident Sam Kerfoot was arrested for multiple felony charges, the most significant of which were possession of over 600 pornographic videos and photos of children, many under three years old. He was also charged with multiple counts of production and distribution of child pornography. This man was a student, but he was also accused of a heinous crime, and the University’s attempts to handle this situation are beginning to stir more of a commotion than the crime itself. Students are growing more upset by the fact that they are hearing about an on-campus atrocity through every other media outlet except the University.

Six days after Kerfoot’s arrest, I was informed of a community discussion in McLaren regarding his activity through a student who had befriended a nursing major. When attending this meeting with my roommate, we walked into an empty room with 40 chairs. Maggie Baker, Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions walked in the room, accompanied by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Heller.

The four of us gathered together, as it was clear my roommate and I were the only attendees. Little did I know, only nursing students were invited to the discussion. This decision, made on behalf of Provost Heller, was problematic because it did not include the entire community, a clear lack of transparency.

Why isn’t the University being more transparent with Kerfoot’s story? Provost Heller told me that it is standard practice for universities not to release statements on student conduct unless it’s a harm to the community. It may not be a harm to the immediate university community, but this topic affects our space, campus atmosphere and emotional state.

What is also important to note is that USF isn’t like most universities. We are a small community of individuals with a hunger for truth, compassion and social justice. It is not the university’s job to decide what affects the student body. Provost Heller said that Kerfoot’s story was only spread via email to the nursing community because he felt they were most impacted. When an incident of this magnitude happens on campus, everyone is impacted, and it’s important to shed light on the issue.

After telling Provost Heller that I found these community discussions important, he agreed and said that they were far more useful than words on a screen. The problem was that there were four of us in a room meant for 40. There was no large community discussion. Provost Heller said that all faculty was notified via email about Kerfoot in order to start group discussions in the classroom. Director of African American studies, Candice Harrison, sign language professor Joel Gelburd, and numerous other professors on campus have received no such email.

Provost Heller confided with me that things could have been handled differently. Communication is the backbone of a community, and when that ceases we are left helpless to the University’s lack of clarity. With Kerfoot’s incident, it’s imperative that we do not stop communicating. Students cannot assume there is adequate transparency on campus, and cannot resume complacency when they are denied information.

It is the University’s job to determine whether Kerfoot’s alleged criminal activity poses a physical harm to our community. But it is not their responsibility to address if students are emotionally affected. Students have a right to know what is happening on campus. Any public statement or community conversation on campus won’t cause us to jump to the conclusion that Kerfoot is guilty.  Has the University forgotten the purpose of creating independent, shrewd minds? We aren’t disturbed by Kerfoot, but rather, the crimes he is accused of.



One thought on “Fractured Transparency at our University

  1. Thanks for writing this, Marissa. I teach at USF and Sam was one of my students. I understand why the University administration handled the situation the way it did, but I know it felt like gaslighting for many students and faculty, too. It is my understanding that only faculty who were actually teaching Sam in the current semester received e-mails from the administration, but I think most of us also learned of the incident through the media. It’s all so sad and disturbing.

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