UNH students, admins look to move forward on campus safety

  • In this photo taken Wednesday April 6, 2016 students walk past the historic Thompson Hall at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. The water system serving the University is among more than two dozen in New Hampshire that have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once in the last three years. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Published: 12/2/2021 7:15:00 PM
Modified: 12/2/2021 7:14:37 PM

The University of New Hampshire has been in the spotlight in recent months after a sexual assault was reported on campus, spurring protests and calls for institutional change.

NHPR talked to Kai Parlett, a student co-founder and coordinator of the Sexual Violence Action Committee of New Hampshire and in another conversation, Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Nadine Petty and UNH President James Dean about the latest events on campus, and what they all hope to see for the campus in the future.

Previously, channels of communication between student activists and UNH administrators broke down. Dean said he wouldn’t meet with student leaders until they apologized for protesting outside his on-campus home. But in an interview with NHPR, he said he’s changed his mind.

“I don’t really want that to be our focus at this point … I think the students and the university leaders really want the same thing,” Dean says. “We want there to be a safe campus. We want people who are victims to feel supported … Somehow, we got off to a bad start with this in terms of the way that maybe we spoke to each other and we’re trying to do better and we’re hoping we can meet soon.”

Among those student leaders Dean may soon be meeting with is Kai Parlett, a co-founder and coordinator of the Sexual Violence Action Committee of New Hampshire, a group that formed in the wake of the Oct. 25 protest. Despite the divide between students and the university’s president, she says the committee wants to work in partnership with administrators.

“I hope that [Dean] is sort of coming to an understanding of what we’re really trying to get at, which is not students versus President Dean. It’s not students versus administration. We’re trying to collaborate and really work together to push forward a mission of making UNH a safer campus,” Parlett says.

The report of a sexual assault was made in mid-October by a student who says she was assaulted in Stoke Hall, the university’s largest dormitory. Protests arose days after as students voiced their concerns about UNH’s handling of sexual assaults on campus.

A protest on Oct. 25 saw students gather outside of Dean’s home on campus, after which he said he was met with what he called “disrespectful behavior.”

UNH already has safeguards in place, including a Title IX office and SHARPP, the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program. Dean cited studies that have ranked UNH among the safest schools in the country. But Parlett says it’s not about statistics that deem a campus safe or not, but rather it’s about how students feel.

“I think we should stop comparing ourselves to other colleges and universities and start really looking at what we can do better because there’s always something that we can be doing better,” she says. “As long as there is sexual assault at UNH there’s something that we can be doing better.”

Dean and Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Nadine Petty say they’ve been making a concerted effort to make UNH as safe as possible, improving preventative measures and making it easier for students to report instances of sexual assault. Petty says the Title IX Advisory Council has established a subgroup to work on revising the school’s sexual violence prevention plan with the most current best practices.

Parlett and her co-organizers have met with administrators twice, and presented them with a list of action items: concrete changes they’d like to see at UNH to combat sexual assault. One of the changes Parlett is hoping for would be more student involvement on the Title IX Council and the committees regarding student safety. That includes members of the Sexual Violence Action Committee and survivors of sexual assault who want to participate.

“Student representation is not the same thing as survivor representation,” Parlett says. “When we’re talking about assault, if they want to and if it is something that they’re comfortable doing, survivors of sexual assault are really the ones who can speak to it.”

Some of the action items, Parlett says, will have to be revised. They didn’t comply with Title IX. UNH is bound by the regulations of Title IX, so administrators aren’t allowed to release any information about ongoing investigations. Dean says those restrictions can make students feel like they’re being left in the dark, but the university has to adhere to them.

“I think students sometimes feel as if we’re being evasive or not being fully transparent with them, when unfortunately, our reality is that we simply can’t say anything about ongoing investigations and that are actually our severe penalties for us doing so,” Dean says.

Parlett says she hopes members of the Sexual Violence Action Committee and administration will be able to work together on the revised action items when they meet in the near future and implement a version of each of them. Petty says the UNH administration is currently working, in conjunction with other offices on campus, on a list of recommendations based on the action items that will represent a “holistic clearinghouse of what the institution is working towards.”

“I believe that they’re going to be happy to see where we are, where we are headed and what we are going to accomplish moving forward,” Petty says.

Transcripts of the conversations between NHPR and Dean, Petty and Parlett are available at NHPR.org. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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