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UD panel event falls flat with some students as response to gender-based violence protests

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media
University of Delaware students took to Main Street last week to protest a culture of gendered violence on campus.

The University of Delaware hosted a panel of experts and listening sessions Tuesday in response to protests last week over a campus culture of gender-based violence.

UD faculty and staff—and a representative from the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence—gave a “teach-in” about the manifestations and causes of gender-based violence, as well as the resources already available to students affected by it. Media were not allowed to attend the student listening sessions that followed.

The event was one way UD is responding to last week’s protests over the school’s handling of the arrest of Brandon Freyre, a male student accused of brutal violence against a female student, and what students describe as a broader problem of violence on campus.

Several panelists praised the student protesters for speaking up and demanding change.

Sophia Schmidt
Tuesday's panel "teach-in" at UD

“Raise your voices. Never, ever be silent,” said Sue Ryan, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “University of Delaware students, you are the hope, and you are the change to come.”

But some students felt Tuesday’s event did not address protesters’ demands.

“Not really,” said Diana Weiss, a senior at UD who attended the panel, but left before the listening sessions. “Because a lot of the demands were like, put blue light [emergency phones] in more residential areas, because a lot of people aren’t on campus. They didn’t talk about that.”

UD senior Rona Ribaya agreed.

“It was a lot of just thanking us for advertising it and kind of putting it out and bringing awareness to it, but I don’t think it really highlighted ways to solve the issue,” Ribaya said.

Weiss and Ribaya were also disappointed that they didn’t learn more about how UD is handling Freyre’s case.

University officials said last week that Freyre has been temporarily severed from the University, meaning he is not allowed on campus or to access any University services while his criminal proceedings play out. Officials say he could ultimately face consequences up to and including expulsion.

Marie Laberge, a Women & Gender Studies professor at UD who spoke on Tuesday’s panel, said she was distressed by how similar last week’s protests were to ones she participated in decades ago.

“How is it possible that we are still marching in the streets to demand our safety in our schools, in our streets and in our homes, 40 years later?” she said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

UD says it will also convene a task force of external specialists and internal stakeholders to make recommendations on how the University handles safety, crime and sexual violence.