This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A group of four University of Utah students and recent graduates walked into President David Pershing's office Monday, letter in hand, prepared to dismantle the school's recent response to sexual assault complaints and discuss future policy changes.
An hour later, they walked out happy, they said, with the president's response.
"They seemed receptive and were on board with most of the things we said," said Mira Reynolds, leader of the group SLC Against Sexual Assault.
Pershing immediately apologized, according to the group, for a campus-wide email he sent earlier this month about an alleged rape in the Merrill Engineering Building parking lot on Halloween.
"It was good because they started out acknowledging their misstep" with the email, said Esther Aboussou, a student and another group leader. "We weren't the only ones they heard from."
The women objected to the email's wording, saying it will have a chilling effect on male and female victims of rape, and formed the group SLC Against Sexual Assault in response.
In the email, University Police Chief Dale Brophy is quoted saying that the department could not determine that the Halloween attack occurred.
"We are not calling into question that this person may have experienced something terrible at some point in her life, but we are not able to find evidence that a crime occurred at the place, date and time reported," Brophy said.
In an 11-page open letter to Pershing, group members say the email puts the alleged victim on trial, "which is a particularly harmful message to send to those who have been sexually assaulted.
"While it is not explicitly stated, the subtext of Chief Brophy's statement is that the survivor lied about the assault," they wrote. "We take issue with Chief Brophy's implication that the survivor of the Oct. 31 assault lied and [Pershing's] endorsement of this message by including it in your email to the entire university community."
Maria O'Mara, spokeswoman at the U., told The Salt Lake Tribune that the email "was reviewed by the communication office, legal counsel and others in the administration" prior to it being sent.
In a Dec. 8 email to Reynolds, Sherrie Hayashi, the U.'s Title IX coordinator, said that a lot of thought was put into the content and tone of the message.
"It is always difficult to strike the right balance in any type of broad-based communication," Hayashi wrote. "As often happens with all forms of communication, sometimes the message falls short when seeking to address many different perspectives and experiences."
But group members say it missed the mark and was "vastly inappropriate."
Title IX is a federal law that bars sex discrimination and requires colleges and universities to swiftly respond to and resolve complaints of sexual violence.
Group members want additional Title IX investigation staff to be hired, and would like transcripts of individuals found responsible for committing sexual assault to include that information.
They also would like the steps for initiating a Title IX investigation to be more accessible, perhaps aggregated on one webpage, for example.
Additionally, they called on the university to release the names and violations of individuals found responsible for breaking sex-assault policies, saying that "by setting a standard of identifying perpetrators of sexual assault on campus, the university would make a strong statement that harassment is not tolerated on campus by anyone."
Reynolds said Pershing was especially on board with the group's suggestion to put all of the Title IX information in one area.
The Tribune was not permitted in the meeting Monday, and all questions were directed to O'Mara.
"President Pershing and his administration continue to demonstrate their willingness to hear all members of the campus community on the issue of sexual assault, and we look forward to including this group in future conversations, too," O'Mara said in a Monday email.
The U. currently is under federal investigation because of a complaint from graduate Nisha Kavalam, who said the school mishandled her sexual assault investigation. It is one of three Utah colleges including Brigham Young University and Westminster College being investigated for their handling of sexual assault complaints.
Group members also are calling the university to change the messages used when discussing sexual assault.
It should "shift from focusing on self-protection for those especially at risk to addressing the culture that perpetuates sexual assault by encouraging reporting and enforcing punishment of perpetrators," they wrote. "Using language that does not call a survivor's character into question is the first step in addressing rape culture."
The group has asked the school to respond to its letter by Jan. 27. If it doesn't, the women said the group will reconvene to determine how to proceed. They might, they say, find a way to put on their own public meeting on campus.