by Sarah Willson
Both praise and criticism were fired at President Dr. Zulma Toro regarding the handling of past and present sexual misconduct allegation cases that some accused the university of “sweeping under the rug.” Now, as a result of the most recent alleged sexual misconduct allegations made against Theater Professor Joshua Perlstein, who was put on paid administrative leave two weeks ago, Central Connecticut is changing its current sexual harassment and assault policies.
Dr. Toro said that while students or faculty who are alleged victims of sexual misconduct are encouraged to report the abuse to the university immediately, there will no longer be a 90-day requirement for victims to report their incident to the university. Alongside this, reports of alleged sexual misconduct that are five years old, or older, will no longer be destroyed.
These decisions were discussed during the second of two forums. The majority of students who spoke at both forums said they were disappointed in the university’s handling of sexual misconduct cases over the years, stating that the school had not done enough to protect those who came forward.
The reports of sexual misconduct that are brought to the table years later, according to a staff member from Human Resources, go to the Office of Diversity and Equity, and are then investigated, but investigative files from “10 to 15 years ago could have been destroyed.”
“I think in some ways, I stand here as a face of the past because any administration, any establishment that seeks to move forward in a healthy way has to acknowledge the past or they’re gonna be doomed to repeat it,” Anna Kelly, who claims she was sexually harassed by Perlstein, said. “I speak for many women who have been waiting like I have for more than 14 years to hear this school say ‘Joshua Perlstein has been fired and he will never come on-campus again.'”
Kileen Nadeau, now 45, also addressed her past experience with Perlstein during a second forum held at the university this past Monday, saying that she is “under no illusion that [Dr. Toro is] going to work on [her] behalf to see that things are done and changed for the better of this university.”
“You’ve inherited this life on this university,” Nadeau said to Dr. Toro. “And it’s up to you to change it.”
Now, current students are speaking out about the issues they have faced with Perlstein.
“In the theater department, it is known very early on. Even our freshmen who have only been here for a few months in their first semester know that you do not stay alone in a room with Josh Perlstein. You do not go anywhere near him and you do not let him within three feet of you,” Erin Sagnelli, a junior in the theater department, said. “And yet, even with reports, it has taken the administration this long and an article written by a fellow student [in The Recorder] to take action. Our students have been feeling unsafe for decades.”
Sagnelli spoke directly to the Board of Regents, claiming they had done little to acknowledge student concerns during a meeting with Dr. Toro and fellow theater majors just last night.
Talia Maselli, another theater major at CCSU, claimed the university had done nothing when her alleged rapist transferred into her class.
“There’s nothing we can do to help in this case. Sorry for any difficulties this may cause you,” Maselli read in an alleged email Dr. Toro had sent her. Though she thanked Dr. Toro for her time and her willingness to address the issue on Perlstein, Maselli criticized the university for the handling of her case.
“It’s time to stand up in actions, not just in words. Beginning today, we take action into our own hands,” Maselli said. “If you will not protect us and fight for us, we’ll do it ourselves. President Toro, Board of Regents, CCSU, your time’s up.”
Advocating for Maselli, English professor Katherine Hermes spoke out claiming that “nobody talked to Talia.”
Dr. Toro was quick to reassure students that both she and the BOR are doing everything in their power to protect both current and future students.
“First of all, I want to thank you for spending part of your afternoon with me to start what I consider a very difficult, but very necessary conversation,” Dr. Toro said. “I am deeply concerned, as I think you are, [too], about the reports of a faculty member [and his] long history of alleged sexual misconduct and other abuses. The more I have learned during the past week, the more troubled I am.”
“We will not tolerate sexual misconduct or abusive behavior of any kind,” Dr. Toro continued. “In addition to setting investigations into motion, I have spent the past week meeting many of our Central family to gain a deeper understanding about the alleged misconduct and about our campus culture.”
Dr. Toro stated that the allegations of sexual misconduct are not confined to just the theater department, saying that “this is not about one department” and that the allegations are a “concern to all of us.”
Despite the concerns that many shared, some, including Professor Leanne Zalewski of the art department, expressed gratitude toward Dr. Toro and the actions she has taken since the allegations came to light.
“I am so happy that this exists here [because] it did not at my previous institution. I was initially very pleased that this system was here,” Zalewski said. “But then after learning about it a little bit more with this recent situation, I was just disheartened, but also happy that Dr. Toro is stepping up to the plate [and] making an effort to try to make this right. [But] we need more education [on this], we need to know that this is a place where people can be heard,” Zalewski said through tears.
Any student or faculty member can report a complaint at www.ccsu.edu/ccc.