Letter to President Coltrane from the UO Organization Against Sexual Assault
Dear Interim President Coltrane,
We are the Organization Against Sexual Assault (OASA), a student-led group at the University of Oregon dedicated to the prevention and education of sexual assault, advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, and creating a safe environment for everyone on campus. We are reaching out in response to your email to the campus community on Jan. 8 about the upcoming sexual assault lawsuit against the University of Oregon, filed by a current student. In this email, you informed the campus community about the litigation and about your disagreement with the allegations.
As a group striving to prevent sexual assault on campus and supporting survivors of sexual violence, we are happy to read that the university is committed to making our campus a safe place for all students, and is responding to the problem of sexual violence on our campus. We also deeply respect the right of the university to defend itself against accusations brought forward against it. However, we ask you to reconsider whether this email was the right avenue for this defense.
While you have the authority and resources to distribute messages like this, the survivor does not have access to the same platform to defend her version of the story. You assured the recipients of the e-mail that this litigation does not “undermine the university’s on-going commitment to support the student,” however, we believe that actively reaching out to the whole campus community (to which she still belongs) to deny a survivor’s allegations does undermine said commitment. Such actions can contribute to secondary victimization, which is the re-traumatization of victims of violence by social service providers, and can further affect the safety of other survivors at the University of Oregon who want to report their experiences and/or take legal counsel against a system they feel contributed to their trauma. Other survivors of sexual violence may fear their experiences will be treated in the same manner, and could easily feel discouraged from exercising their rights and seeking any support from the university. Thus, we are afraid that this email sends a message that is completely contrary to our common goal to make our campus a safe place for survivors of sexual violence.
We at OASA hope that this email did not set the precedent on how litigations involving sexual assault will be handled in the future. We ask for any upcoming messages to the community (about this lawsuit or other topics) to be written with the appropriate sensitivity toward the safety of all survivors and with explicit attention to avoid the secondary victimization of any UO student, staff or faculty.
We thank you for your time and are looking forward to your response and a constructive dialogue on how to make our campus safer for everyone.
The UO Organization Against Sexual Assault