Senator Blumenthal Meets with Fairfield University Community
Nearly 200 Fairfield University students, staff, faculty, and administrators met with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in the Kelley Center Presentation Room on August 25, 2014 to discuss proposed federal legislation to combat campus sexual assault at colleges and universities nationwide. It calls for protecting and empowering students while strengthening campus accountability and transparency when it comes to reporting and dealing with sexual assaults.
Senator Blumenthal applauded Fairfield University for being a leader on the issue. In the spring, the Senator had recognized Fairfield University for ‘best practices’ in how it handles such reports. “Fairfield University is proactive and has a cooperative approach [when it comes to this issue],” the senator said. “What we’re saying here today is, ‘Here’s a model for you [for other colleges]. Hey, look at what [Fairfield University is] doing.”
The discussion – the second the senator has had this year at Fairfield - follows the release of the White House Council on Women and Girls’ report that found that nearly one in five women (22 million) and one in 71 men (1.6 million) have been victims of sexual assault. In the wake of the report, Sen. Blumenthal noted that sexual violence is “a societal issue.”
Sen. Blumenthal solicited feedback from the audience. Attending were Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau, members of the Town of Fairfield Police Department, State Rep. Kim Fawcett, and other advocates from Connecticut. From Fairfield, attendees also included University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.; Dr. Thomas C. Pellegrino, vice president for Student Affairs; Karen Donoghue, dean of students; and Fairfield University Department of Public Safety officers, as well as numerous student leaders.
“Peer-to-peer education on this issue is the best,” Sen. Blumenthal told students, many of them resident assistants. More than half of the attendees were students.
One student suggested awareness training on sexual assault matters should begin in high school. Another stressed that some sexual assaults may be same sex-on-same sex assaults.
One student asked how the proposed legislation encourages bystanders to come forward. Dr. Pellegrino noted that bystanders are most effective in the moment, when they see something bad about to happen and intervene to prevent it from occurring.
Sen. Blumenthal introduced the Campus Safety and Accountability Act in July with Senate colleagues Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Claire McCaskill D-Mo.). The bill has bipartisan support, a unique situation in today’s Washington. Supporters also include Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), among other lawmakers.
“[How sexual assaults are handled on college campuses] will be a factor on where you and your parents decide where you will go to college,” Sen. Blumenthal noted.
This was the Senator’s second visit to campus on the issue. The previous visit took place in March in the Dolan School of Business Dining Room, and was also conducted as a roundtable in which he and Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut learned about college campus climates and attitudes on sexual assaults from students and staff from numerous universities in Connecticut. Sen. Blumenthal took back ideas gained from this roundtable – one in a series in Connecticut - to inform President Obama’s task force on the issue.
“Cultures change, things will change for the better,” Sen. Blumenthal told the Kelley Center audience. “You all here today are taking a leadership role on this issue.”
After the meeting, Dr. Pellegrino reiterated that given the University’s mission to serve social justice and be a community committed to the mutual care of all its members, the issue is of prime importance. “Changing culture is never easy, and yet we know what we stand for as an institution. Carrying out our mission means that we take a multi-pronged, proactive approach to education and prevention. Our community is committed to this.”