‘Why we are frustrated’: The strained dialogue surrounding sexual assault on Burlington’s college campuses

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Editor’s Note: This story was a collaboration between Haley Seymour, the editor of the Champlain College Crossover, and two students in Professor Ben Dangl’s Strategic Writing course at UVM, Sabine Love and Wilder Daniel. Sabine Love was also an organizer of the April 27 walkout, described in this article.

Ava Warren with a supporter at the April 28, 2022 walkout at Champlain College. Photo by Haley Seymour

By Haley Seymour, Champlain College, in collaboration with Sabine Love and Wilder Daniel, UVM


On April 28, 2022, students gathered in the Rozendaal Courtyard at Champlain College to tell their experiences of sexual violence.

Senior Ava Warren took to the courtyard steps, sharing her story first.

Warren said last fall she was followed home from a Halloween party. A UVM student entered her apartment and raped her.

She said she went to Planned Parenthood the next morning, telling them she needed help. They told her that their next physician couldn’t see her that day. She went to Urgent Care, where they helped her get an appointment at the UVM Medical Center. After she waited all day at the medical center, she received a rape kit. 

The following week, when she reached out to Champlain’s Title IX office, Warren said she “received good support.”

 “I can’t say that I had a bad experience with Title IX,” she said. “I can say that my rapist goes to UVM, so there wasn’t much that they could do in terms of taking care of my situation here.”

A pinboard on UVM’s campus, April 2022. Photo by Kat Lipari

There is a divide between the Title IX offices and students at the University of Vermont and Champlain College. The issues extend beyond the geography of the two campus communities, which share problems of poor communication and lack of transparency.

The day before Champlain’s event, UVM student activists held a walkout in affiliation with the organization “Explain the Asterisk“.  Twenty universities across the country participated in the event. Over 500 UVM students walked out of class and rallied outside the Waterman building.

The walkout occurred nearly a year after a similar protest took place at UVM, where thousands gathered. 

Before the May 2021 protest, The UVM Student Title IX Advisory Committee released a comprehensive list of demands. In the last year, 14 of the 17 demands have been marked as implemented on UVM’s website

UVM hired Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator, Elliot Ruggles. They also mandated annual sexual violence training for UVM counselors and UVM Police employees, signed a contract with HOPE Works to provide 24/7 survivor and ally support, and created a Sexual Violence Response Team that includes representation from multiple university offices. The three remaining demands are marked as “in progress” on their website.

But many students are skeptical. Marguerite, a UVM sophomore at the protest this April, said she was uncertain if Ruggles’ hiring would accomplish anything.

“Most of the efforts seem out of touch with the student population,” she said. “I think there are efforts being made, but I think they are falling short simply because they can’t do anything because of red tape, or there’s not a clear understanding of why we are frustrated.” 

At UVM’s April 27, 2022 walkout. Photo by Sabine Love.

One cause for the disconnect stems from the way sexual assaults are reported. The Clery Act, a federal statute implemented in 1990, requires universities to submit a Public Safety Report, and that universities “report campus crime data, support victims of violence, and publicly outline the policies and procedures they have put into place to improve campus safety” (clerycenter.org).

The most recent report issued publicly on September 29, 2021, includes primary crime statistics from 2018 to 2020. The report states that in 2020, there were 10 accounts of rape. This number only accounts for crime that occurred on the university’s campus or campus owned buildings, while students know of many more incidents, like Ava Warren’s, ranging across the city of Burlington.

UVM’s Clery Act Coordinator, Kelly Riel, responded to questions by email. She confirmed that “Clery Act statistics only include incidents that occur on and immediately around UVM Campus and on other UVM property.”

A February 17, 2022 post from UVM’s Men’s Basketball Team Instagram account.

Students have turned to social media to communicate their dissatisfaction. Earlier this year, The University of Vermont’s official Men’s Basketball Team Instagram posted a message in acknowledgement of the Team’s sixth straight American East Regular Season Title. The post also included a statement by the University: “UVM does not tolerate sexual misconduct and takes such accusations seriously.” 

Within 30 minutes of the message being posted, there were more than 280 replies in the comments section of UVM’s post. Many comments alleged that UVM is not recognizing allegations of sexual assault when perpetrators are athletes. One comment came from @shareyourstory, an Instagram account created in the Spring of 2021 as a space for survivors to anonymously share their stories: “Why are we celebrating coaches that protect abusers on their team and silence survivors?” 

While some students find the Instagram account helpful, others have mixed feelings. Trey Cook is a UVM freshman. “I think for a long time people have silenced victims, and I am glad that they have a place to share their story,” he said, “but of course there are some issues with it being anonymous. No one on that site is being held accountable.” 

After the outcry over the basketball post,  UVM’s Provost and Senior Vice President Patricia A. Prelock sent an email to the student body, acknowledging the confusion: “I want to recognize that failed communications and lack of action create an environment that takes time for healing to begin and trust to be regained.” 

Social media is also becoming a place for students at Champlain College to share opinions on Title IX issues. The Instagram account @champlain.imgladimissed, which is not affiliated with the college, is an anonymous, student-run account where students can submit frustrations and jokes about the college, fellow students, and faculty.

An anonymous Feb. 18 post read, “Why does ch*mplain[sic] allow somebody with 10 Title IX’s to hold a position of power[?]” 

The post spread across Champlain students’ personal Instagram accounts, garnering over 40 comments. 

In an interview the submitter of this post, who chose to remain anonymous, confirmed that he was referencing a student in a leadership position, not a faculty member.

Danelle Berube is Champlain’s Title IX Coordinator. She said she was unavailable for comment in person or via phone call.  She responded to questions through email.

In response to the anonymous Instagram post, Berube wrote: “The Title IX Office is not aware of any scenario of ’10 Title IX’ reports or violations.”

“The College takes all reports seriously and strives to remove all barriers to reporting as well as accessing support and resources,” Berube wrote. “Issuing consequences based on speculation or rumor would be a violation of Title IX requirements.”

The April 28 walkout at Champlain College. Photo by Haley Seymour.

One problem is that many Champlain College students don’t understand the difference between a Title IX report and a formal complaint. For example, when the anonymous student said that a student leader had “10 Title IX’s” against them, they did not clarify whether this meant reports, formal complaints, or just accusations.

“There is sometimes a misperception that submitting a report will automatically result in an investigation,” Berube wrote. “This is not the case. Anyone can submit a report, and doing so is a way to access supportive resources and information.”

A report becomes a formal complaint when a student signs it, which results in an investigation in either a Title IX, Sexual Misconduct, or Community Standards process. Those found responsible for violating College policies after the investigation process are issued sanctions, described in the student catalog.

Moving Forward

On March 22, the Champlain Title IX office released a ‘Culture of Consent Survey’ to all students. The survey was initiated by a criminal justice student, in collaboration with the Title IX office.

The survey closed April 1. Champlain’s Title IX Coordinator Danelle Berube said “an executive summary available to the campus community as soon as possible,” and that “analysis of the data will continue during the summer and the Title IX team will use it to guide plans for the fall.”

On May 2, Interim President Dave Finney sent an email to the Champlain community to address the walkout as well as general concerns regarding Title IX.

Finney noted that the college is working on revisiting college policies and “enhancing the communications, educational programming, resources, and support we provide to our students and community members.”

Danelle Berube attended the walkout and agreed with several points Finney made.  In an email Berube explained that the Title IX office is taking the organizers’ demands into consideration, and they have already been implementing new initiatives that will be in place in fall 2022. 

“The changes that we have been working towards go beyond what organizers are requesting,” she wrote.

Berube complimented students’ strength, courage, and care for each other, but also expressed some frustration. 

“I wish the organizers had opted to meet with me or any member of the Title IX team prior to planning the event,” she wrote. “I think the information we could have provided would have greatly assisted them in their efforts to advocate for meaningful change.”

While the debate continues on both campuses, Ava Warren continues to work on her Title IX case.

Warren was supposed to graduate this May, but said she had to enroll for another semester due to her struggles with this incident. She described her grades as “the worst they’ve been in my entire college career.”

“I shouldn’t have to be working with detectives during finals week,” she said.

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‘Why we are frustrated’: The strained dialogue surrounding sexual assault on Burlington’s college campuses

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