University administration responds to protests and reform demands

Three weeks ago, in conjunction with their student speakout event and vigil on campus, the advocacy group It’s On USFCA released a list of demands pushing President Paul J. Fitzgerald S.J., University administration, and other campus stakeholders to enact institutional changes at USF amid the aftermath of the Sports Illustrated (SI) article. The University and Fitzgerald officially issued responses to these demands last Friday, Oct. 22. 

In a statement titled “Rebuilding Trust and Community,” Fitzgerald acknowledged the growing and intensified backlash the University has faced since the SI story. “I am committed to improve upon all of the work done in the past to prevent sexual violence, to promote respect, and to bring restorative justice when our community standards are violated,” wrote Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald revealed that his office and leadership team had been working with the Office of Student Life, Title IX, and the athletics department since the demands from It’s On USFCA were publicized, as well as other pushes for accountability and change from the community. 

Senior politics major Alana Beltran-Balagso, one of the student organizers from It’s On USFCA, said she was “glad the school finally addressed the Sports Illustrated article, however, that email should not have required student activism to produce.” Though she said she understood institutional changes will take time, “until we see tangible action, the emails are just nice sentiments.”

Facing pressure, President Fitzgerald and the University responded to demands made by It’s On USFCA and other campus community members. PHOTO COURTESY OF NATALYA BOMANI/IT’S ON USFCA.

In Fitzgerald’s statement, he referenced another response led by the Title IX office, which was released that same day. This was the University’s official response to each specific demand that It’s On USFCA listed. Initially, the University thanked the advocacy group for their work and said it “hopes [it] will serve as a pathway for continuing work together.” 

The following is the list of demands from It’s On USFCA and a summary of the University’s responses.

The first demand listed is for a personal apology from Fitzgerald “for the University’s failures in addressing sexual violence” and a request to meet with him as well as other student organizations. The University responded by releasing a part of Fitzgerald’s message to the group’s organizers on Oct. 15. Sharing the same apology he had previously expressed, Fitzgerald acknowledged that additional actions must be taken and that he is “working with students, faculty, and leaders of divisions…to ensure that our policies and protocols are clear, accessible, and focused on the survivor-centered approach that we prioritize.” The response also highlighted the president’s appearance before ASUSF Senate, which was covered by the Foghorn, and a commitment to meet with “other student and administrative groups.”

Second is a call to instill and implement “survivor-centered Title IX policies,” which the group claims are shaped by a Trump-era Title IX rule. The University explained that USF policies are changed in compliance with state and federal laws but said that “there is intentional use of protocols that prioritize survivors’ rights, needs, and wishes.” Title IX added that USF does respond to off-campus incidents, though they aren’t mandated by federal law. However, USF policies will continue to be updated as they are “always under review.”

The third demand by the group is a “creation of a student and survivor Sexual Violence Taskforce.” The University replied that it had instituted a committee, the Resources, Education, Prevention and Support (REPS) group which includes a total of 12 student representatives and aims to end sexual violence on campus. In addition, USF said it had created a “Sexual Violence Resource Advocate” role in CAPS as well as other programs under the Title IX office. 

The fourth listed request is a “required course and/or training for ALL community members (students, faculty, staff, coaches, etc.) at least quarterly.” The University admitted that this area of education needed to be increased. Though the new hiring of a Title IX Deputy Coordinator has increased the office’s capabilities and online trainings for students and faculty and staff are mandatory, USF said “Human Resources will explore educational programming and awareness to be incorporated in division and department meetings and will collaborate with the Title IX Office to identify best ways to expand courses and trainings for all community members.”

The last demand is an “increased funding for sexual violence prevention and awareness programming year-round, including more transparent and comprehensive Title IX messaging.” The University said it will review its current budget and funding for programming around this issue. Additionally, the REPS committee will be assisting Title IX “in understanding ways to increase transparent and comprehensive messaging.” Among the listed improvements in communication methods by USF are greater usage of social media, in-person programs, and better accessibility to materials. 

In his message to the community, Fitzgerald said that the University is building on the action items that the community has called for, in addition to the steps it already took after the allegations were publicized in July 2020 and when the Hulst & Handler report came out earlier this year. 

Devi Jags, one of the organizers of It’s On USFCA, spoke with the Foghorn three weeks ago and said that it was time for federal authorities to step in and investigate USF. Subsequently, Fitzgerald’s statement also included that an announcement will come soon on “how USF will participate in delivering messages to the U.S. Department of Education about the need for new policies and guidelines on preventing sexual assault on campuses and supporting survivors.” 

It’s On USFCA was not able to provide an immediate reaction but said their group will come out with an official statement soon. However, for Beltran-Balagso, she said moving forward with this issue will require “a more inclusive dialogue where the administration is willing to listen to students’ constructive criticism regarding campus sexual assaults and where the University is willing to actually make changes that go beyond email inboxes.” 

The Foghorn will continue its coverage on the issues raised by Sports Illustrated’s article and anything related to this subject in the coming weeks. 

Reach out to tips@sffoghorn.com or our news editor at marcayena@sffoghorn.com.

Miguel Arcayena is a senior politics major and the Foghorn’s news editor. He covers COVID-19-related campus news and administrative issues. He can be reached at marcayena@sffoghorn.com.

One thought on “University administration responds to protests and reform demands

  1. How about the university (students, faculty and staff) try authentic Christian witness a try? Perhaps re-embracing Catholic principles enlivened by acknowledging the dignity of the human person, authentic, complimentary relationships between men and women and rational sexual ethics?

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