This article was updated with new information on Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
A petition began circulating on Friday night asking the University of Portland community to “advocate for change in how sexual assault is handled through the student conduct process at UP” by signing.
The petition comes in response to an email circulated by UP freshman Clara Ell who reported being sexually assaulted by another student in her dorm room in September. In the email, Ell and her father, Assistant Director for Leadership at UP’s Moreau Center Pat Ell, outlined the ways in which they believe the University’s conduct process failed her.
UP alumni (12’) Kurt Berning and Katie Doyle organized the petition on Friday evening. As of 8:30 p.m Sunday, 1,856 people have signed.
The petition letter outlines flaws in the student conduct appeals process, stating that “A system where the original hearing officers also determine the result of any appeals is completely unacceptable. We as former students and staff members must reject this strikingly limited and circular appeals process.”
Berning and Doyle encourage alumni, faculty, staff and former employees of the university to support three different points: Ell “deserves a legitimate case review” which is not made up of officers who participated in the original hearing, she deserves an apology for the delay in her hearing, and the university needs to “conduct an external audit of its process for investigating sexual assault.”
Some of the comments left on the petition from alumni and faculty include:
“It takes a great amount of courage for a woman to come forward and tell someone in authority that they have been sexually assaulted. Your handling of this case does not encourage other women to come forward. Many women will now remain silent because they have lost faith in the system and those in charge of it. Please do the morally right thing and change your handling of this case and future cases.”
“I was a hearing officer only once while employed at UP. Although there was a clear desire to respect the dignity of all parties involved, the panel and decision-making was definitely led by the most experienced person in the room, the conduct coordinator, with very little room to question or dissent. This is not a criticism so much as an endorsement that an internal review process and some changes could help UP love, lead and serve better.”
Berning said that he and Doyle focused on the conduct process because they have both worked in Residence Life at the university.
He told The Beacon that they have been in conversation with Pat Ell and together they decided that “a petition would be a perfect way to gain publicity for the story and demand change.”