After the outcry against UMBC’s mishandling of sexual abuse cases and the subsequent protest, UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski spoke to several dozen protesters in his office. At the time, he stressed his belief that the issue at hand was not an actual structural failure of UMBC administration or its policy, but instead a failure to “communicate.”
This position was put in context last Wednesday as Dr. Hrabowski was added to the list of defendants in the lawsuit that sparked the protest in the first place.
Indeed, many across campus are concerned by the calculated response of the university to this controversy — a response that offers no administrative reforms, even as more and more survivors come out and share testimonies that reveal a pattern of administrators dismissing and covering up cases of rape and abuse.
The most notable case of this mishandling is that of UMBC Chief of Police Paul Dillon, who is accused of repeatedly and purposefully misclassifying reports of sexual violence. Despite these accusations, the university has never really acknowledged calls for his removal. A comprehensive email sent on Oct. 11 detailed next steps being taken to address the controversy, measures that seemed largely inspired by the protesters’ demands. Conspicuously missing, however, was any talk of replacing the administrators in charge of handling cases of sexual abuse, a request which was given a high priority among those demands.
Frankly, the university can adopt as many new initiatives as it wants, but that tackles only half the problem. What good are these reforms if the people implementing them have a history of covering up rape?
One defense Hrabowski gave in an interview with the Baltimore Sun was that he had not been hearing that students around campus still wanted removals.
However, this seems more indicative of administration wanting to push a narrative than an actual reflection of reality, and this can be seen around campus. Chalk tags calling for reforms and removals have been appearing regularly on buildings around campus. These are removed within hours of being spotted by administration.
For comparison, in 2016 a white nationalist group tagged campus with stickers and flyers calling for violence against non-white students, which were never addressed by campus authorities and were instead taken down by students.
Furthermore, the students with whom administration is deliberating seem handpicked. The “UMBC Accountability Team and Student Partners,” which published the email update on next steps, includes none of the leaders of the protest or the march to the tenth floor of the Administration Building, for instance. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, had their nomination to a position in the SGA (which is included in the team) revoked for being involved with the protest.
Ultimately, the university is offering reforms that, while in many ways are good, cannot be considered a full solution. Instead of working with students independently to see what the wider student body wants and what survivors on campus need, the university is trying to dictate reforms on their own terms.
Because of that insistence, these reforms are being overseen by an administration that covered up rape instead of by the community that is calling for justice, making the administration at best suspect and at worst a perpetuation of the problem.
Correction: An earlier version of this article and also the print version published on October 24, 2018, refers to the anonymous student as being “dismissed” from the SGA. Posted updated on 10/24/2018 at 10:15 p.m.
Correction: An earlier version of this article and also the print version published on October 24, 2018, refers to Paul Dillon as “allowing rape kits to be destroyed, having survivors harassed and having the rapists interviewed at a Chick-Fil-A.” The sentence has been removed as in the court documents, Dillon is not accused of any of these actions. Rather, the Baltimore County Police Department and the Maryland Attorney General’s office are accused of these actions.