A little over a week ago, The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team published an investigative piece on thirty-one educators accused of sexual misconduct with students, all of whom were able to secure positions at academic institutions after allegations were made. This article hits home for many of us at Let’s Be Clear — not just because it depicts how cycles of sexual violence are perpetuated in places of learning, but also because it reveals that our alma mater, Wesleyan University, hired one of these thirty-one individuals. The sense of betrayal and hurt is overwhelming, as we are forced to realize that a space we fought so hard to make safe was anything but. We know that many of you are grappling with the reality of this horrific news, whether as a survivor, ally, activist, or community member, and to you we say — this is awful, this is terrifying, and you do not have to face this alone.
For those that haven’t heard: “Vermont Academy fired an assistant dean in 2007 for allegedly propositioning a 16-year-old female student in lewd text messages. Yet the boarding school still produced three recommendations for its former employee, and he landed a job months later at Wesleyan University in Connecticut — overseeing student sexual misconduct hearings.” Wesleyan hired an alleged sexual predator to preside over cases of sexual misconduct and assault. His name is Scott Backer.
According to Wesleyan administrators, the incident was not uncovered in a background check when the University hired Backer in 2007. And while that may be hard to believe, what’s even more difficult to comprehend is the University’s claim that the lawsuit that ensued in 2011 went completely unnoticed (despite alumni that suggest otherwise). Even after that point, Backer quickly rose through the ranks during his eight years at Wesleyan, and he became Associate Dean of Students in 2013 — a position that granted him the authority to oversee all Title IX cases involving the student body.
Although there has been some controversy over whether the administration ever knew about Backer’s past, one thing is unequivocally clear: the actions taken by Wesleyan in the wake of this situation were by no means enough.
Within 24 hours of being contacted for The Globe’s investigation, Wesleyan fired Backer; however, the only mention made to the Wesleyan Community was in an all-campus email about “Staff on the move”. Wesleyan then hired Pepper-Hamilton, a law firm, to review the sexual misconduct cases Backer oversaw. In just two months, the University reported that, “The auditors completed their review and reported no concerning issues or impropriety.” Legally speaking, the university was covered. And to President Michael Roth and Title IX Officer Antonio Farias, that was enough.
Let this be a message to Roth, Farias, and other members of the administration at Wesleyan: Your students deserve better. You need to hire educators that have the utmost moral integrity. You need to make it university policy that a thorough background check is performed for anyone handling sexual misconduct cases. More than that, individuals who hear cases need to receive comprehensive training not just about the law, but about trauma, sensitivity, crisis, and advocacy.
You need to provide a platform for students to provide feedback on the Title IX reporting and hearing process. You need to create a system that enables students to easily report concerns over the way a case was handled, because the current appeals process is inadequate and painful for survivors.
You need to show us that you genuinely care about the issue of sexual violence, and everything that comes with it — victim blaming, emotional trauma, and violation of due process to name a few. You need to be open and honest with our community. You need to think about the impact your actions have. When you mess up — and you will mess up again — you need to apologize. And not only when an apology is demanded, but when one is due.
Most importantly, you need to listen. Hold yourselves accountable and take action. You need to make this right. Use this experience to be better, to set an example. Be brave and stop worrying about covering your ass(ets). Be the leaders we know you’re capable of being.
Moving forward, we urge not only Wesleyan, but every university nationwide, to take a close look at the individuals in the administration that are responsible for the safety and welfare of thousands of students. And we urge students to take matters into their own hands and tackle the root causes of sexual assault. Show your schools how important this is.
Practice bystander intervention.
Listen to survivors.
Call out your friends when they make rape jokes.
Join organizations to address sexual assault.
We will not be silent. We will not allow individuals like Scott Backer to govern the level of safety on campus. Now, more than ever, is the time to work together to create, protect, and defend safe spaces.
To the Wesleyan community: our hearts are with you. Our commitment is to you and every community who has said “enough is enough”. We will work to support you in any way needed. You deserve better. We deserve better. Every student, every person deserves better. We will do our part in finding and achieving that better. Let us know how we can help.
Let's Be Clear