By Kayla Zopfi
A student in my Women’s and Gender Studies class, WGS201, is currently awaiting trial for 10 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of disseminating child pornography. This is public knowledge – yet, from what I can gather, this student has been free to take any class they wish, without so much as a heads up from the college for their faculty or peers.
Over the course of February and March, I had several meetings – with the professor of my course, with the deputy Title IX Coordinator, Anne Teitelman, and with Academic Affairs – and was never given a direct answer as to who I could speak to specifically about this matter. Understanding student privacy guidelines and each U.S. citizen’s constitutional right to due process, this is partially understandable, however, on Friday, February 26, an anonymous individual took liberty to email the information about our peer to every student in this WGS201 course. I cannot speculate their motive, but I was relieved to definitively know that all of my peers now had access to this information: information that Concordia had a responsibility to equip us with in the first place in order to achieve a secure and empowering learning environment. The following Monday morning, Dean Larson took a gracious 3 minutes out of her schedule to join the class, assure us that the school was aware of the situation and inform us that not a single person at the institution would be available to speak on the matter moving forward.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, including being coerced into creating child pornography, this matter has weighed heavily on my heart this entire semester. Being met with mere stock emails referring me to the counseling center has only reinforced the truth of Concordia’s systemic anxiety to address matters that directly affect student security and empowerment. My intention with this letter is not to call the institution to action on this matter in particular, but rather to shed light on this situation–and to lament. Accountability, vulnerability, and courage are essential qualities for any institution of higher education to teach and model for the individuals they are preparing for the world. By neglecting to live into the commitment it has made to “…[fostering] an environment of respect and empowerment as it relates to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and other discrimination,” and to “…foster an ethos of care and respect in all areas of the college,”(College Policy Prohibiting Sexual Harassment, page 3), Concordia has, once again, failed to take steps toward building a “world more joyful and just.”(Concordia Leads: The Plan for 2030) For how long can this college tolerate injustice?