A group of feminist Temple students snuck into Temple's Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday to disrupt the meeting with demands that the school open a 24-hour rape crisis center and remove board chair Patrick O’Connor.
While the three members of Temple’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) who disrupted the meeting were escorted out, FMLA President Martha Sherman, who participated in the disruption, said she felt that the trustees heard their message.
The FMLA says O'Connor, an attorney and vice chairman of the law firm Cozen O’Connor, should step down from the board for representing former Temple trustee Bill Cosby in 2005 while he was first facing allegations of sexual assault from former Temple employee Andrea Constand. They also want his name removed from the new O'Connor Plaza.
"Having someone who believes what Bill Cosby did wasn't wrong on the Board of Trustees means that we're not getting resources for sexual assault survivors," said Sherman, 22, a senior at Temple majoring in public health and political science. "It shows Temple students and faculty that if they stand up and say they've been sexually assaulted, that they're not going to be supported by the university."
"The university has not ignored FMLA’s request," a university spokesman said via email. "Temple has not established a centralized sexual assault crisis center because research, consultation with experts such as Women Organized Against Rape [WOAR] and feedback from student survivors of sexual assault confirm that it is not consistent with best practice. Rather, in February 2017, Temple and [WOAR] established a Main Campus satellite office, a first-of-its-kind collaboration. This safe, confidential reporting option provides 24/7 support and response. Upon calling the hotline — 215-985-3333 — a Temple student who wants to confidentially report an incident of sexual violence can receive on-campus support and counseling from a trained WOAR volunteer."
But Sherman said FMLA has conducted an anonymous survey among students and received reports that students reporting incidents have encountered barriers to services that a centralized entity could address.
"If someone wants to talk to police and also get counseling and also pursue a student conduct hearing, you have to go to one office and then another and then find out they're not able to talk to a mental health counselor for weeks — that can be seriously re-traumatizing," she said. "A place where they could access all of these things would make that situation much more streamlined for people who've just experienced a serious traumatic assault."
The FMLA is targeting O'Connor due to his legal representation of Cosby in a 2005 civil matter at the time Cosby was being investigated over allegations relating to Constand. (Cosby had a separate criminal defense lawyer.)
"It was several years ago. He no longer represents Mr. Cosby," said Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for O'Connor. "In respect to that legal representation, the university reviewed the matter with an eye toward whether there would be a conflict. … The university concluded that it would be appropriate for Mr. O'Connor to take on that matter and he did."
After a new wave of some 50 female accusers came forward, Cosby stepped down from his position as Temple trustee in 2014 and was charged in the Constand case later that year. After a Montco jury deadlocked in Cosby's criminal trial, O'Connor told the Inquirer that the jury system had "worked in this instance." A judge is currently weighing whether to allow more accusers to testify in Cosby's retrial.