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Retriever Courage launched as campus demands change

In early September, UMBC was faced with a lawsuit alleging that the campus and county police, along with higher-authority officials, mishandled sexual assault allegations. Almost immediately after the news broke, students vented their anger by holding a protest in front of the Commons that ended with a confrontation between students and UMBC’s president Freeman Hrabowski.

Now, two months later, a new initiative has been made to address this issue head-on. Retriever Courage, whose website was launched Nov. 2, aims to unite the UMBC community in better confronting and handling the issue of sexual assault.

“Retriever Courage is something which is largely named after an idea called institutional courage,” explained Adam Harvey, a fourth-year physics graduate student and the chair for the University Steering Committee. “Institutional Courage is about an institution as a whole stepping up and saying, ‘there are things that are not done as well as they could be, and we should change [them].’”

The University Steering Committee, as Harvey describes it, “[talks about] whatever topics we find most pertinent and discuss[es] how senates are handling most situations. Five senates who make up different parts of campus populations meet up at this Committee to further enable collaboration that reaches all around campus.” Harvey’s role as head of this committee includes enabling discussion and initiating agendas for each meeting, along with planning initiatives that the committee has come up with.

Students are required to take online sexual misconduct and drug-abuse trainings that roll out every summer before the start of the school year. These mandatory online modules may not be as effective as previously thought. According to Harvey, “plenty of research shows that mandatory [in-person] training is a very positive force in preventing sexual misconduct.”

The chair of the University Steering Committee explained that mandatory training for faculty and staff will begin sometime around the first week of December, with the goal of student training beginning sometime around spring 2019.

Roy Prouty, a computer science graduate student, is the president of the Graduate Student Association. His role is to be a resource for students if they have any questions or concerns regarding misconduct, as well as being able to “actively facilitate the change that so many people at UMBC have made clear needs to happen,” says Prouty.

Prouty explained that, although he is the president, the GSA contains a senate that is made up of 35 senators from all parts of campus dedicated to hearing graduate students. If students have a concern the senate will, as Prouty describes, “discuss and decide whether or not it’s a big enough issue to handle at the graduate level, or it’s a problem that needs to go to higher authorities.”

Information can also come down from higher officials to the senate, creating a flow of discussion between the two parties. This demonstrates the idea of shared governance, in which student and faculty-based committees collaborate with higher officials to enact change. According to Harvey, this may take longer to implement because “shared governance [contains] people who have non-administrative roles on campus collaborating with the administration.”

Nancy Young, Bobbie L. Hoye and Lisa Akchin are all members of the higher authority officials on campus that are working in collaboration with student organizations in order to enact Retriever Courage to the best of its ability.

“The word courage is really important,” said Young, the Vice President for Student Affairs. “And it’s not just about a website, it also captures the voices that we’ve been listening to … The courage to speak out is what is important.”

Hoye, who is the Title IX Coordinator and Associate General Counsel, added that Retriever Courage has shown a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that is being done on campus at the administrative and individual levels. “We’re having the courage to have the difficult conversations, to listen to where we are not doing our best,” said Hoye.

There is no doubt that there has been a disconnection between campus authorities and students when it comes to talking about issues like sexual misconduct. Akchin elaborated on this, saying that not enough people had enough information on what was going on; however, more conversation has resulted from students and faculty coming forward to express their concerns.

To further bridge the disconnect, Akchin explained, “There are two subcommittees that the University Steering Committee is setting up: a faculty-staff advisory committee and a student advisory committee.” This way, constituents will be given a voice that will reach higher officials. Young additionally described how a consultant will be coming to campus to give advice as to how UMBC can direct its change more effectively for students, faculty and staff alike.

The Vice President of Student Affairs found it important to emphasize that Retriever Courage does not focus on sexual assault alone, but also issues such as gender discrimination and domestic abuse. “We are often talking about things that don’t fall under the category of rape but yet still have [a] significant impact on the way someone can move about campus or the world.”

Young, Hoye and Akchin all hope that this push for change demonstrated throughout the community does not lose its spark. “The hope is that the energy here is sustained, and not just from an administrative standpoint, from an entire community,” said Hoye.

“It’s sad that not enough people knew about these events before September 2018,” said Prouty. As UMBC looks forward, the university is now faced with addressing how higher authority officials and student organizations alike will work together to implement changes in how the campus handles sexual assault cases.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post previously misspelled Bobbie L. Hoye’s name as Bobby Hoye. The post has since been updated.