by Ruth Bruno and Sarah Willson
In light of the recent allegations of sexual misconduct made against Professor Joshua Perlstein, the Board of Regents, which oversees seventeen colleges and universities including Central Connecticut, is reviewing their sexual harassment reporting policies.
“I can tell you that the sexual assault misconduct processes policy is getting reviewed by the Board of Regents in our main meeting,” Angelo Simono, Executive Director for Student Relations and Compliance of the Connecticut State College and Universities, said Monday evening. “We will be re-looking at that document as it relates to sexual harassment to make sure that its practices are up-to-date and meet student needs, and that students are made aware of those practices.”
Simono said he was made aware of the decision to review the policies Monday morning and notified CCSU President Dr. Zulma Toro during a meeting between her and students of the theater department Monday evening in Mid-campus Residence Hall.
As part of the forum, theater students were encouraged to voice their concerns and questions, and the discussion turned heated as several students voiced their opinion that their needs had been ignored by the university.
“We don’t want a speech, we don’t want an email, we need something real,” student Erin Sagnelli said, who voiced that she hopes to see policies changed as a result of the allegations.
“I am committed to change what I can change and make this place safe for every student,” Dr. Toro told the students, and notified them that while she cannot disclose details, several investigations are underway.
Talia Maselli shared her frustration that she felt she had been ignored by the university and the Board of Regents when she reached out to them with allegations that another student had raped her off-campus and later transferred into her classes.
“Nobody from the BOR reached out to me until I filed a complaint with the OCR [Office for Civil Rights],” Maselli said. “If this is the position students are put in, then how are we supposed to collaborate?”
Other students had questions about how sexual harassment and assault complaints were handled after students made reports.
“[Complaints] swept under the rug, they are put in a file cabinet and swept away,” student RaeAnne Newbury said, while insisting that students’ recent complaints of sexual harassment had been ignored.
Students first heard Dr. Toro address the allegations of sexual misconduct made by former students when she sent an email to all actively enrolled students, faculty and administration Tuesday morning.
Perlstein remains on paid administrative leave according to Dr. Toro. The notice informing students of his status was sent via the university’s emailing system last Wednesday.
“I have determined it is necessary to place Theatre Professor Joshua Perlstein on paid administrative leave while we fully and aggressively investigate the totality of allegations outlined in an article published yesterday in The Recorder student newspaper,” Dr. Toro wrote.
“I’m surprised that it wasn’t handled faster,” Eliza Pezzulo, a first-year graduate student, said. “From what I heard, it wasn’t handled very quickly so I’m surprised at the school. I feel like he should have been suspended right away.”
The CCSU professor is being investigated by an external party, Shipman & Goodwin LLP, as part of the university’s efforts to address the allegations.
Dr. Toro said she has tasked Chief Diversity Officer Rosa Rodriguez with reviewing the 90-day reporting period allotted to students who submit a claim of sexual harassment to the university. The policy currently states that an investigation into sexual harassment can only be opened by the Office of Diversity and Equity if the complainant reports within 90 days of the incident.
Dr. Toro has appointed Brian Sommers, Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and Scott Bartley, chair of the Department of Theatre, to address student concerns.
“I know times were obviously way different, so things were handled differently, but as of right now, I think President Toro did a pretty good job [of addressing the issue],” student Caitlin Wixted said.
While supporting Dr. Toro’s efforts, Wixted took note of Perlstein’s current status as a paid employee.
“I can’t believe they’re still giving him money,” Wixted said. “That’s kind of crazy after all the allegations.”
The Recorder is awaiting a response from Dr. Toro regarding the details of how the investigation will be handled and which members of her “Executive Committee” will be part of the investigation.
“Getting to the bottom of how reports of alleged sexual misconduct were handled in the past and setting a new standard for how they are handled in the future is of the utmost importance to me,” Dr. Toro wrote.