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The Guidon

Lack of transparency clouds Norwich’s handling of sexual assault cases

Norwich University in Northfield on Tuesday, October 8, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Since a reported sexual assault on campus at the end of the Spring 2023 semester, an investigation by The Guidon has found that it appears Norwich University has done little to create and initiate new programs to improve student safety.

With at least two cases of sexual assault reported within a year of each other, The Guidon sought to determine what, if any, steps the administration has made to help prevent incidents like this going forward.

The Guidon reached out to multiple administrators and other key figures at Norwich University with questions about specific programs that have been added. Sources were asked how they have been involved in responding to and addressing these cases, as well as how exactly they have contributed to campus security and safety in this context.

Most emailed requests for interviews and information were met with responses, but they failed to answer direct questions. In other cases, however, some school officials either did not return our requests for information or simply declined to answer those questions and referred the reporter to a statement issued by the Office of Communications.

The Guidon requested additional information from both Jennifer Renko, director of Provost Communications and Operations, and Sarah Stefaniuk, the interim Vice President of Brand Marketing and Communications, for comment on the matter separate from the previously issued statement. Both provided the same statement released earlier this month.

“Norwich University takes every allegation of sexual violence seriously and is fully cooperating with local law enforcement officials,” the statement read. “In conjunction, the university is currently conducting its own investigation.”

Deputy Commandant of Cadets William Passalacqua and Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Gregory McGrath requested The Guidon contact Pam Koppelmann, Chief Compliance Officer.

“As I shared earlier, Pam Koppelmann is out today, though she was kind enough to reply and to share the resources outlined below,” McGrath wrote in an email to The Guidon (the resources and links he shared with us will be included at the end of this article).

“Sexual and gender-based misconduct reports are supported through our compliance team in the Provost’s Office, not Student Affairs or other university personnel,” McGrath said. “We don’t comment on ongoing investigations, and we cannot share private or confidential incident details.”

McGrath and others, however, declined to answer specific questions from The Guidon, which included the following:

  • What specific measures has Norwich taken to improve student safety and address sexual assault on campus since last year’s incident?
  • How is the university working to foster a culture of respect, consent, and accountability that prevents such unacceptable behaviors?
  • What resources and support services are available to survivors of sexual assault?
  • As the Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students here at Norwich, have you been involved in responding to and addressing this report? If so, how exactly have you contributed to this conversation about campus security and safety in this context? And if not, what have you been told regarding these incidents that you would be willing to share with the Guidon?

McGrath also wrote in his email response to The Guidon that “we are disheartened that you requested responses to questions with less than 24-hours/one business day to respond. We will be happy to answer your questions more fully if you can confirm extending your timeline.”

Given the sensitive nature of cases like this and the fact that it may still be fresh in the minds of many students and staff, The Guidon believes that a level of transparency from administrators would help in the newspaper’s goal to relay essential facts of an event to the public without compromising the safety of anyone in the Norwich community.

Unfortunately, recent email responses to The Guidon follow a pattern in which Norwich administrators either do not respond to The Guidon, do not respond to specific questions, or give The Guidon instructions on how exactly quotes can be used.

Journalism professionals and scholars, however, argue that transparency among school officials is essential in order for independent news organizations to fulfill their role as campus watchdogs.

Poynter, a non-profit journalism school and research organization, argued that it is important for college officials to understand that working with student-led press isn’t just their job, it’s good for democracy.

“College and university leaders gain nothing from disparaging their own student media,” a 2021 essay on Poynter’s website argued. Such an approach to student press is “disingenuous” as well as contradicting “higher education’s core values,” which leads to “immediate negative effects on campus and in local communities.”

Confidential campus resources:

Confidential off-campus resources:

  • Mosaic 24/7 Hotline (802) 479-5577.
  • Circle (Intimate Partner Violence Support Service) 24/7 Hotline (877) 543-9498.

Non-confidential campus resources:

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About the Contributor
Bennett Oakes
Bennett Oakes, Staff Reporter
Bennett Oakes is a staff reporter for the Guidon.
He is a sophomore in the Corps of Cadets in the Class of 2026. Pursuing a major in Communications and a minor in Spanish, Oakes is an active member of the Norwich Tennis Team. He has expressed enjoyment in writing overall and watching and reviewing movies.
Outside Norwich, Bennett likes to sail, kayak, and do anything to get out on the water and in the sun.
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