Speaking Out

Lacking Victim Support?

In the early 1970s, a Victim Support unit within Public Safety was established, in response to several on-campus attacks on women--and an ensuing sit-in in College Hall. The unit was created after careful deliberation, and following extensive discussion to assess campus needs. It was designed to provide a safe location on campus where women could report problems of harassment and rape to police officials, and receive sympathetic counseling, advice, and help. To reflect its responsibility for both student concerns and general campus safety, it was to be headed by a Women's Security Specialist who reported jointly to the Provost and to the Vice President responsible for Public Safety. For the ensuing 20 years, this position was held by several distinguished women with formal police training who provided extensive, compassionate support to a large number of women students, staff and faculty.

During the past five or six years we have seen a silent but systematic dismantling of these arrangements. First, the dual reporting system was quietly abolished, and responsibility for Victim Support (renamed "Special Services") was housed exclusively within Public Safety. This was followed by moving its location from its secure on-campus site on Locust Walk, first to Walnut and 40th Streets and recently to Chestnut Street near 41st. The selection of the Women's Security Specialist (renamed Security Specialist) ceased to involve consultation with concerned campus groups. The last individual to hold this position was appointed without consultation and recently resigned, and it is not even clear whether an office with designated responsibility for victim support now exists.

While these changes have occurred without any consultation or announcement, they have not gone unnoticed by members of the campus community. Over the past few years, several delegations of women have requested meetings with Vice President for Public Safety Thomas Seamon, but the resulting conversations can be most charitably described as polite but unproductive. At the meeting of University Council last December, a group of women students formally expressed concern about the increasing insensitivity of Public Safety to women's issues. Concurrently, questions were raised about the insensitivity of Public Safety to people of color. Mr. Seamon's response at the March Council meeting was published in Almanac on April 6, 1999, and interested readers can judge the level of sensitivity for themselves. Although individual members of Council have expressed the view that these are matters which demand attention, the University administration has responded with a deafening silence.

One might, perhaps, make an argument that an organized resource designed to deal with women's safety issues is no longer needed because problems of rape and sexual harassment have been solved. But should not the University administration be prepared to openly defend and discuss such a position, rather than surreptitiously dismantling a resource which has provided such vital service?

--Phoebe Leboy, Professor of Biochemistry/Dent

--Ann Matter, Professor of Religious Studies

--Fay Ajzenberg-Selove, Professor of Physics

--Regina Austin, Professor of Law

--Phyllis Rackin, Professor of English

--Adelaide Delluva, Emeritus Professor of Animal Biology

--Drew Faust, Professor of History

--Helen Davies, Professor of Microbiology/Med

--Rosane Rocher, Professor of South Asia Regional Studies

--Madeleine Joullié, Professor of Chemistry

--Roselyn Eisenberg, Professor of Microbiology/Vet

--Yvonne Paterson, Professor of Microbiology/Med, on behalf of the Board of the Association of Women Faculty and Administrators (AWFA)


I write in reply to the concern of members of our faculty that the position of Director of Special Services within the Division of Public Safety has changed from its original intent. In fact, the position remains very much in keeping with its origins, and has been strengthened since it was instituted.

The position of Director of Victim Support was created more than 20 years ago in response to crimes against women on campus. In the past two decades, this position was held by several women with backgrounds in the criminal justice system. In 1994, a search was conducted by John Kuprevich, who was Commissioner of Public Safety at the time. A range of members of the Penn community were involved in the search process. Maureen Rush was hired as Director of Victim Support and reported directly to the Commissioner of Public Safety.

In 1996 when Ms. Rush was named director of police operations, I conducted a search for her successor. The search process again included a range of members of the Penn community. As a result of this search, Dr. Susan Hawkins was hired as the Director of Special Services. The change in title from Director of Victim Support to Director of Special Services was made to more accurately reflect the more diverse and expanded role of the Director. In the spring, Dr. Hawkins left the post to join the Department of

Psychiatry at the Medical Center. Detective Supervisor Patricia Brennan is serving as the Acting Director of Special Services until the position is filled.

The Director of Special Services continues as an important and very valuable position in the Division of Public Safety and the University. We are anxious to fill the position, and we will again involve members of the Penn community in our search. In the interim, Ms. Brennan will continue to work closely with administrators and resource centers throughout the University.

At all times, through our ongoing interactions and referrals with the Associate Vice Provost for University Life, the Penn Women's Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and many other University offices and centers, we will continue to ensure that compassionate, caring, and professional services are delivered to all members of our community.

--Thomas A. Seamon, Vice President for Public Safety

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Ed.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 3, September 14, 1999