October 29, 2021
Dear Members of the UNH Community –
I want to start this message by discussing my email from Monday and the reaction to it. I said in the email that people should be careful about statements made on social media because they are often incorrect. What I did not fully appreciate then, but I do now, is that some survivors of sexual violence use social media to share their stories. Because of this, many people understood my message to be one of undermining the experiences of survivors. While this is not at all what I meant, I now understand why people interpreted it this way and were angry and disappointed at my statement. I am very sorry to have created the impression that I wanted to silence survivors. On the contrary, my hope, and the hope of all university leaders, is that survivors will come forward, report their experiences and allow us to support them and to seek justice. Again, I want to express my regret to the university community for appearing indifferent to survivors’ stories and needs, which should be at the center of any conversation on these issues. To all survivors – I believe you, UNH believes you.
I want to share some updates on our efforts to combat sexual assault and harassment at UNH. First, I want to be clear: UNH condemns all forms of sexual violence, including sexual assault and harassment. It cannot and will not be tolerated. UNH is committed to providing survivors with the resources and support they need and want. We are also committed to building more trust in our reporting system and to greater prevention efforts.
Earlier this month, the UNH Police Department received a report about a sexual assault in Stoke Hall. This is an active investigation. Over the past two weeks, students have shared concerns about their experience related to sexual assault at UNH on social media and at two protests on October 22nd and October 25th. University leaders were present at both demonstrations to speak with students and to hear their accounts and concerns. Students have shared different concerns, including feeling uncomfortable reporting sexual violence, feeling like they didn't have a positive experience if they did come forward, and feeling generally unsafe on campus. Some students shared that these feelings have been longstanding. We are committed to addressing those concerns.
Over the past week, the UNH community took the following initiatives:
- Residential life hosted a Zoom meeting featuring the Affirmative Action and Equity Office’s (AA&EO) Director and Title IX Coordinator and SHARPP’s Direct Services Coordinator (Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program).
- Several students at the protest provided their names to Senior Vice Provost Kenneth Holmes to share their interest in being part of a sexual violence advisory committee to give feedback on our processes.
- Students have formed different coalitions to give various university leaders, including Dean of Students Mike Blackman and Chief Diversity Officer Nadine Petty, feedback on best communicating with and supporting them.
- Student Senate has already passed a resolution re-affirming UNH's policy on sexual violence and hosted an event for students to share their accounts and feedback. Student Senate will continue to serve as a voice for students.
- Many staff members from various offices on campus, including AA&EO, Student Life and SHARPP, will review their policies and prevention practices.
On Wednesday, an article was published that detailed incredibly disturbing and egregious behavior by a former employee of the university. This was a painful article to read, and my thoughts are with the survivors. I also recognize that this article, and any incidents of sexual violence within our community, stir a range of emotions for faculty, staff, and students – from fear, shock, frustration, concern, and many others. I want to address a few things about the article and the former employee. First, UNH was not aware of his behavior at his prior institution when he was hired at UNH in 2015. Second, a complaint was filed with AA&EO about the professor’s behavior while he was employed at UNH, and a thorough investigation was conducted. Actions were taken to prevent further incidents. Third, the professor is no longer employed at UNH. Fourth, I have asked for a thorough review of this case to see if there are things we could have done better, including a review of the hiring process and background check. The article highlights an unfortunate reality that is far too common in research fieldwork. Under Senior Vice Provost for Research, Outreach and Economic Engagement Marian McCord’s leadership, we will be reviewing our existing research safety strategies and working to implement new approaches to preventing racism and sexual violence both in the lab and in the field.
Finally, I want to encourage anyone aware of sexual violence including sexual assault and harassment to report it. The online reporting tool is here . This tool takes the incident and moves it into a position where we can begin our internal processes, including outreach to the impacted party and investigation if that is the impacted person’s desire. Reporting can be about current and former students and employees. The university has resources to support survivors of sexual violence even if they choose not to file a formal complaint.
There are many UNH resources available whenever students, faculty and staff feel unsafe or need support:
James W. Dean Jr.