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Rutgers must increase transparency, independence of sexual harassment investigations, alumni say

A University spokesperson said the Office of Employment Equity refers sexual assault cases to the authorities. – Photo by Photo by The Daily Targum | The Daily Targum

Rutgers still has ways it must improve on how it conducts sexual assault investigations at the Office of Employment Equity (OEE), said two Rutgers alumni still involved with the organization End Assault at Rutgers. 

The main failings that remain for OEE investigations include a lack of transparency and timeliness from those conducting the investigation, and that the investigations are not done independently of the University, said Aleena Karim, a Rutgers alumna from the Class of 2017.  

Many interviews are not recorded and interviewees are not allowed to see the notes interviewers from the OEE takedown, Karim said. The OEE also does not always meet its 60-day requirement to get back to those who submitted a sexual assault complaint and the office works to protect Rutgers from liability, she said. 

“It leaves lots of things open to even possible misinterpretation or manipulation,” Karim said. “It’s just not a solid method for investigating these things and it leaves a lot of things up in the air.” 

A University spokesperson said the OEE is one of several offices that handles sexual assault complaints at Rutgers, with this office focusing on complaints against members of faculty, staff or third parties. 

“In cases where there are potential conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived, the University refers investigations to other internal units or retains external experts who specialize in investigating sexual harassment claims. In addition, since sexual assault is a criminal matter, sexual assault allegations brought to our attention are referred to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,” the spokesperson said. 

The University’s report of the Rutgers University Committee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Culture Change stated what its recommendations for University President Robert L. Barchi are for new guidelines for consensual relationships, an increase in training and information on sexual harassment, an increase in transparency and assessments and change personnel procedures, according to a University-wide email sent by Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara Lee. 

“A new policy would prohibit relationships between employees or University affiliates and undergraduates, between employees or affiliates who supervise, evaluate, teach, manage or advise graduate students, between intercollegiate athletics coaches or club coaches, affiliates and their staff and student-athletes and between employees or affiliates who teach, manage, supervise, advise or evaluate another employee,” the email stated. 

Anna Barcy, a Rutgers alumna from the Class of 2015 and community and program coordinator of the School of Management and Labor Relations, said the recent hiring of Marybeth Gasman, who had been accused of sexual harassment at her old position at the University of Pennsylvania, was another reminder that Rutgers does not take the issue as seriously as the group would like. 

“I can speak in generalities, but Rutgers has a history of hiring or considering to hire alleged abusers and folks who have even been found guilty,” Barcy said. “And we find this extremely troubling.”

End Assault at Rutgers is looking to spread the word around campus next semester to reach out to more survivors and current students who would like to get involved or may not know that the support group is available, Barcy said. The group has also reached out to and started working with those who worked with Gasman and advocates from other universities, such as New York University. 

“My comments and the entire pivot of this campaign are not for the individual emphasis or staffers that work at the University,” Barcy said. “But the overall prerogative is that Rutgers is basically a corporate entity. While we’re seeing these universities distance themselves from accountability, we're also seeing things like students being treated much more like customers, tuition going through the roof and ostracization.” 

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