UNA students to protest university’s response to sexual assault lawsuit

A group of University of North Alabama students and members of the Shoals community plan to protest tonight because of how the school’s administration responded to a sexual assault lawsuit.

After UNA released a statement accusing an unnamed woman of falsifying sexual assault allegations to extort money from the school, student Ashley Massey wanted to send a different message.

The lawsuit states the defendant was charged with rape and assault on a 19-year-old female before becoming a professor at the university.

“Even though something is going on with UNA’s administration that they would even let this statement be issued, that is not reflective of our community,” said Massey, a 26-year-old from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. “Even if it looks like UNA isn’t supporting survivors, our students and community are supportive of them. We believe them.”

UNA has come under fire in light of a lawsuit that was filed by an unnamed former student who claims she was sexually assault by a professor and the university did not properly respond or investigate. The woman, referred to as “Jane Doe,” claims the assault happened while she was on a school-sponsored trip to Florida with now-former professor David Dickerson.

After the university’s official statement received backlash on social media and in the community, administrators removed the statement from the school website and social media pages. Soon after, UNA issued a new statement saying Dickerson was fired for violating school policy.

“The initial statement just wasn’t aligned with what I would expect from the university,” Massey said. “Title IX teaches us that everyone is welcome and safe, so if you experience gender or sexual orientation discrimination, or sex violence, the university is there for you.

“With that statement, that’s not how they were treating Jane Doe. They were basically calling her a liar and attacking her. That’s not how you encourage others to come forward.”

Along with several other campus and community organizations, Massey organized tonight’s 6:30 p.m. rally as part of her involvement with UNA’s Women’s and Gender Studies Association. The protest will be peaceful, Massey said, with several speakers and performances, plus a moment of silence in honor of “Jane Doe” and all other sex crimes survivors.

The protest is expected to draw hundreds of people to Harrison Fountain at the heart of UNA’s campus, Massey said. Protesters are expected to walk toward the school’s amphitheater where back-to-school events will be taking place.

“What I would really like to see is for people to engage with others who might not know what’s going on,” Massey said. “We’ll have pamphlets from Title IX and other information that might be helpful to victims of sexual assault. We want a peaceful gathering and a way to show solidarity to survivors.

“We want people to be aware that you should strive to be the kind of person that someone would come to share their story of rape or sexual assault. Be an ally.”

After his departure from UNA, Dickerson went to work for Metropolitan State University of Denver. Just days after the UNA lawsuit was filed, Dickerson also had parted ways with MSU.

The UNA lawsuit claims the student was inappropriately touched by Dickerson while they were attending a conference in Orlando. The first inappropriate contact happened at the pool of the hotel where they were staying, according to the lawsuit, which also claims that other students witnessed the incident and took pictures on their cellphones.

Also during the Orlando trip, Dickerson took the victim and another student to dinner, according to the lawsuit. The woman remembers being in and out of consciousness, being walked back to the hotel by Dickerson and being undressed by the professor, according to the lawsuit. She did not have the strength to fight Dickerson and when she later regained consciousness, she realized she was naked, the lawsuit states. She immediately dressed herself and left the room.

Dickerson later called the woman’s cellphone and told her he hoped they could remain friends, the lawsuit states. “I want us to be good friends,” Dickerson told the woman, according to the lawsuit.

Source: http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/08/una_jane_doe_lawsuit_sexual_as.html