FMLA forms task force against O’Connor

The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance wants to expand on-campus resources for survivors of sexual assault.

FMLA President Martha Sherman protests the dedication of O’Connor Plaza at a rally on Monday. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance formed an O’Connor Task Force made up of 14 FMLA members to lead its efforts against Patrick O’Connor, the chairman of the Board of Trustees.

The organization introduced the new task force in mid-September in an effort to both remove O’Connor from the Board and his name from O’Connor Plaza.

O’Connor Plaza was dedicated the chairman, who is a major donor to the university, after renovations were made to the Founder’s Garden and Alumni  Circle. But this honor has been criticized by FMLA and other on-campus activist groups because O’Connor represented former university trustee Bill Cosby in a 2005 sexual assault civil suit filed by former university employee Andrea Constand.

In a suit filed last week by former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, he claimed that Constand settled for “millions of dollars” in this civil suit, ABC News reported.

To make survivors of sexual assault feel like they are being heard, the O’Connor task force is collecting stories from survivors of sexual assault. A form has been set up to collect survivor stories and suggestions to improve sexual assault resources on campus, via the O’Connor Step Down Facebook page. Students can contribute anonymously.

So far, the task force has obtained 17 stories from survivors.

“It’s been a little slow to collect stories just because I think that visibility is an issue, but I don’t think there is a reluctance to speak out,” said Elizabeth Olson, head of the O’Connor Task Force and a junior political science and environmental studies major.

Olson added that not only is she motivated to remove the chairman’s name from the plaza, but also to improve the on-campus resources for survivors of sexual assault.

The organization has gathered more than 100 signatures for its petition to oust O’Connor from the Board and remove his name from the plaza.

The petition also asked for more “centralized” resources for survivors of sexual assault and a “democratic and transparent” Board of Trustees.

The Temple News reported in October that FMLA met with Dean of Students Stephanie Ives and Vice President for Student Affairs Theresa Powell to address its concerns with O’Connor.

FMLA Public Relations Chair Kayla Boone confirmed that the organization met with Ives again on Monday. Andrea Seiss, the university’s Title IX coordinator, who handles issues of discrimination on campus, including sexual assault, was also present at Monday’s meeting.

After the meeting, FMLA president Martha Sherman said the meeting was “productive.”

“We came to the conclusion that we want a lot of the same things, including a centralized location where people can access wellness resources in the instance that they are sexually assaulted,” she added. “Temple FMLA continues to be committed to our demands and Dean Ives was receptive to our messages.”

“We had a very productive meeting, discussing common goals pertaining to educating students on the scope of sexual misconduct and supporting students who have survived such misconduct,” Ives said in a statement to The Temple News.

“I think that the administration is taking steps that they deem necessary to understand how we feel,” said Boone, a senior public relations major. “I explained at the meeting that I feel like they should be more proactive in meeting with us … but the conversation needs to continue.”

FMLA President Martha Sherman, a senior public health and political science major, said President Richard Englert never responded to individual emails from the organization’s email campaign, which encouraged students to email Englert about the naming of O’Connor Plaza.

Englert has not reached out to the organization as a whole since the O’Connor Step Down campaign began, Sherman added. University spokesman Raymond Betzner confirmed that Englert does personally receive and read his emails, The Temple News reported in October.

“O’Connor has given a lot of money to Temple, and I think that is part of the reason that the university doesn’t want to take his name off the plaza,” Sherman said. “Temple not taking us very seriously means that the administration wants to cover up sexual assault and not recognize that it happens on this campus.”

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