Patrick O’Connor to meet with Feminist Alliance

The organization has put its O’Connor Step Down campaign on hold because it is meeting with university officials.

Founder’s Garden was dedicated to Patrick O’Connor, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his wife, Marie, on Sept. 14. The student organization Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance called for the university to remove his name from the plaza and for him to step down from the Board. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor said he is interested in meeting with Temple’s Feminist Alliance, months after the student organization first began calling for him to step down.

Because of this, the “rallying and action-based portion” of its O’Connor Step Down campaign is on hold, a statement from the organization reads, because organization leaders feel administrators are listening to their requests for “centralized and improved” sexual assault resources on campus.

The Feminist Alliance, formerly named the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, made this decision after Elizabeth Olson, the Feminist Alliance member leading the O’Connor Step Down campaign, and Martha Sherman, the president of the organization, met with the Senior Adviser for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Valerie Harrison, Dean of Students Stephanie Ives and Title IX Coordinator Andrea Seiss last month.

During this meeting, Harrison told Sherman and Olson that O’Connor is interested in meeting with the organization soon.

O’Connor confirmed his interest in meeting with the Alliance in an email to The Temple News.

The Feminist Alliance has been protesting the dedication of O’Connor Plaza since it was established in September 2017. O’Connor, a partner at international law firm Cozen O’Connor and the namesake of the plaza, defended comedian and former university trustee Bill Cosby in a 2005 civil suit against former university employee Andrea Constand.

Cosby is being tried for three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly sexually assaulting Constand in his Montgomery County home in January 2004.

Although there is no definitive date set, the Alliance will spend “a lot of time” planning what members will say to O’Connor, Olson said.

University response occurred after Sherman and other alliance members disrupted the Board of Trustees meeting on March 13.

“What do you think of your colleague Patrick O’Connor?” Sherman shouted during the meeting. “How do you feel about his defense of Bill Cosby?” Sherman was escorted out of the meeting by Temple Police after she disrupted the meeting multiple times.

Administrators are “pleased” with the ongoing conversation with the Feminist Alliance, Harrison wrote in an email.

“The Title IX Coordinator, Dean of Students and I have begun what we hope will be regular meetings to share ideas and collaborate on prevention strategies to eliminate sexual violence,” Harrison wrote. “Chairman O’Connor could certainly be a part of that ongoing dialogue.”

During the meeting, Harrison, Ives and Seiss also told Sherman and Olson that upon the completion of Charles Library in May 2019 and the subsequent relocation of the College of Public Health to the Paley Library building, the university plans to reallocate space in the Student Center for more student services related to sexual misconduct, like the Wellness Resource Center.

“The university seriously considered the recommendation of [the Feminist Alliance] and [Temple Student Government] that, in absence of a stand-alone sexual assault center, the university attempt to provide a greater number of resources in one location,” Harrison wrote.

However, it is too early to confirm how offices will shift around. But “options are being considered with this goal in mind,” Ives wrote in an email.

This came as “a bit of a shock” to the Alliance because they haven’t heard much from the administration regarding their requests for improved on-campus sexual assault resources, Olson said.

“For them to come out and say that they’re actually going to do what we want is really great,” Olson said. “If we hadn’t made a big scene and disrupted the Board meeting, I don’t think this would’ve happened.”

As a part of its O’Connor Step Down campaign, the alliance has collected anonymous stories from students about their experiences with mental health and sexual assault resources on campus since November. Olson and Sherman presented about 40 stories that they gathered to Ives, Seiss and Harrison at their last meeting.

The next meeting between the Alliance and university administrators will focus on these reports, Olson said.

The Feminist Alliance was previously the student chapter of the national organization the Feminist Majority Foundation and named the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. It formed in 2013.

The Alliance changed its name and decided to become an independent student organization because its views no longer align with the Feminist Majority Foundation, and the national organization never funded the alliance, Olson said.

The student organization will continue to advocate for mental health resources, since many students frequently complain to the Alliance about three-week wait times at Tuttleman Counseling Services and staff members at Tuttleman not being trauma-informed.

“So far we’ve been talking a lot about location of the resources, but we haven’t really been talking about the quality of the resources,” Olson said. “We might try to push for the university conducting its own survey, because they can reach a larger audience by emailing it out to all students.”

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