"If you feel unsafe then you shouldn't say anything at all."
That's what an administrator at the University of Connecticut's Community Standards said to me when I testified for a girl who had been physically assaulted. I knew at that point the interview wasn't going well, but I had no idea how bad it would be.
I am one of seven girls who has filed a claim against UConn under Title IX with violations specific to my case including, but not limited to, hostile environment, inadequate sanctions foster hostile environment, and discouragement from reporting.
Last October, I awoke to screaming behind my on-campus apartment and witnessed the incident in which UConn running back Lyle McCombs abused his girlfriend while a group of young men stood by and watched. It made my stomach churn, and while I had thought about drawing the curtains and going back to sleep, I also thought back to a different group of young men and a different girl, except that time the girl was me. So I picked up my phone and called the police.
The day after McCombs was arrested for yelling, spitting and hitting his girlfriend, head coach Paul Pasqualoni benched him for fifteen minutes. Pasqualoni later justified his actions by saying he got the story from "a very reliable source," to which I spent a great deal of time wondering who exactly this source was. McCombs? The cop I testified to? McCombs' roommates who stood outside and watched?
I emailed the administration, complaining that there should be consequences for boys who assault their girlfriends. They referred me to the Office of Community Standards, and I felt relieved that someone would finally listen to me and take action. But before I began my testimony I asked the administrator if my statement would remain private.
"Mr. McCombs has a right to know who testified against him," the administrator said.
"But he lives below me," I replied. "I have to live with him for the next seven months and you're going to tell him that I'm responsible for his arrest? What about my safety?"
"If you feel unsafe then you shouldn't say anything at all," she said.
I sat up in my chair and stared at her, first in surprise and then in shock. I was afraid of this boy who had assaulted his girlfriend. Yet she didn't seem concerned, her gaze impassive. Even if McCombs was entitled to know who his accusers were, why didn't she offer to move my living assignment or instate a no-contact policy? Why did she instead tell me not to say anything at all?
I was terrified of speaking, but when I thought of how scared the girl looked, I couldn't bear not saying anything in her defense. I thought that speaking would be worth it if McCombs was punished. When I finished my testimony, the administrator dismissed me. I hadn't said anything she didn't already know.
"That's it?" I asked. "I feel like you're not taking this seriously, like you don't even care. This stuff happens all the time on campus and no one ever does anything."
The administrator said that it was her job to care, and furthermore she did not see this happening "all the time." If I cared so deeply about it I should join a women's group. I started to cry.
"I read your email to Student Advocacy," she said. "You've had issues with an abusive boyfriend previously. Clearly this is bringing up some emotional stuff and that's why you're so upset. You should seek counseling."
For my remaining seven months at UConn, I felt unsafe. I lived in a building with a boy who knew I was responsible for his arrest. I couldn't walk back to my apartment after an evening class; I was afraid to go to the library at night; I couldn't take the trash out after dark. What was the point in complaining to the administration if they didn't take me seriously, if they discredited my statement because I was once a victim of abuse as well?
UConn claims that they have mechanisms in place to ensure the rights of their female students, but I've been through that process, and it's not true. When I reported an assault, they encouraged me to stay silent about what I had seen. When I refused, they didn't protect my safety as though it was some consequence I had brought upon myself. But this happens every day on campuses all across the country, and it will continue unless academic institutions make serious changes to their policies regarding women.
"If you feel unsafe then you shouldn't say anything at all," she said. What she didn't understand was that it didn't matter whether I spoke or not. At UConn, I would always be unsafe.