UPDATED at 5:16 p.m. on March 19
More than 180 students signed a petition asking Temple University Japan to disinvite Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor from a grand opening ceremony in November for TUJ’s new campus.
The petition, published by Uprizine, a student-run feminist magazine on TUJ’s campus, is signed by students and alumni who oppose O’Connor’s visit because he represented Bill Cosby in a 2005 civil lawsuit filed by former university employee Andrea Constand for sexual assault. In September, Cosby was sentenced three to 10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Constand in his Montgomery County home in 2004.
O’Connor’s visit is “a setback and a normalization of rape culture,” the petition states.
O’Connor wasn’t aware of the petition, he wrote in an email to The Temple News on Friday, but did not immediately respond to multiple requests for further comment. In October, he told The Temple News he never regretted representing the former university trustee.
“I’m saddened by what’s happened to Bill Cosby and his reputation because he was a great Temple [alumnus] when he was at Temple,” O’Connor said in October. “It saddens me that this has happened to him.”
Tricia Euvrard and Hikari Hida, the co-founders of Uprizine, presented the petition to TUJ Dean Bruce Stronach at a public forum in February. To spread their message, Euvrard and Hida distributed 1,000 copies of the Spring 2019 edition of Uprizine around Tokyo on March 11.
“By inviting somebody who openly defended a now-convicted rapist, it sends a message about how much they care about their students who are survivors of sexual violence,” Euvrard said.
Stronach shared the petition with the Office of the President during a visit to Main Campus in early March, he said, but hasn’t heard a response to the students’ concerns.
Euvrard and Hida also met with Stronach last week and said he was “dismissive” of their concerns, despite repeating that he understands their feelings about O’Connor’s visit. In a piece published in the magazine’s latest edition, Uprizine called Stronach’s support for O’Connor’s visit “a bold statement on where he truly stands regarding sexual violence.”
Stronach told The Temple News he “completely disagrees.”
“You have to look at [O’Connor’s] total body of work,” Stronach said. “And for me, personally, I know who I am. The people who know me know who I am and I’m very comfortable with who I am, and I certainly do not believe I support the novelization of rape culture in any way.”
Stronach did not take part in the decision to invite O’Connor to TUJ, he said, but welcomes him.
O’Connor’s tenure as Board chairman ends in July, but he will remain a Board member. It’s appropriate for any Board member to visit an international campus after an accomplishment, Stronach said, like the completion of TUJ’s new campus at Showa Women’s University.
This is not the first time students protested against O’Connor because he represented Cosby. The Feminist Alliance, which signed Uprizine’s petition as a group, has held multiple rallies over the past two years, calling for O’Connor to step down from his position as chairman.
In November 2017, TUJ students had no on-campus resources to report sexual assault, The Temple News reported. Students had to coordinate complaints remotely with Andrea Seiss, the university’s Title IX coordinator, and reports were hindered by the 14-hour time difference between Tokyo and Seiss’ office in Philadelphia.
Since then, the university appointed Nicole Despres as the deputy Title IX coordinator at TUJ. Seiss also visited TUJ — the only one of Temple’s international campuses that students can attend for four years — in April 2018, to raise awareness about issues like sexual assault and establishing gender-neutral bathrooms.
Despres has handled about eight Title IX-related consultations with TUJ students since assuming her role, she wrote in an email to The Temple News on Tuesday. Two led to a “conduct procedure,” she added.
Euvrard and Hida said it’s disappointing that an invitation was extended to O’Connor following this progress on how TUJ handles reports of sexual misconduct.
Raising awareness about sexual assault has been Euvrard and Hida’s passion for the three years they’ve spent at TUJ. They founded Uprizine to publicize the lack of sexual assault resources on their campus and hope other TUJ students continue the work they started after they graduate in May.
“[Sexual assault] touches so many people that we know, that we’ve been around,” Euvrard said. “We’ve heard so many stories about harassment, so many people who experienced it that don’t have a chance to voice it or don’t have a support group. [Uprizine] kind of turned into a support group.”
“These are issues we don’t just face as individuals, but as an entire community,” Hida added.