Opinion: 2012 alumnus stands with Clara Ell

By Kevin Hershey | March 22, 2017 7:37pm

Photo courtesy of Kevin Hershey.

I was diagnosed with cancer during my junior year at the University of Portland.

Within hours of my diagnosis, all facets of the university mobilized to support me during one of my most frightening moments, a time when I could have felt alone, isolated and unsafe.

The amazing University Health Center provided me with excellent medical attention, connected me with some of the best doctors in the city and offered free, high-quality mental health counseling. Campus Ministry called me and offered spiritual guidance and prayers. The Relay for Life team sent me a heartfelt card of support. The Moreau Center sent staff to my off-campus house to check on me. The supremely talented Maureen Briare gave me a recorded collection of her healing harp music. My professors bent over backwards to help me get through my classes. My closest friends arranged everything from health insurance to movie nights. My house was flooded with flowers, cards, books, candles, soups, teas and homemade treats.

I have often said that UP is the best place in the world to survive cancer. Why, then, has UP continuously proven to be the worst place to survive sexual assault?

When Clara Ell was allegedly assaulted on campus in the fall by another student, it took the University 14 days to respond to her request for a hearing, according to Pat and Clara Ell.

Months later, after Ell, her family and several members of the UP community have continuously called for justice, her alleged assailant remains on campus and the university officials who mishandled her case remain unaccountable for their failures.

This sends a loud and clear message to all members of the UP community that sexual assault is OK, that survivors will not be heard, and that it is not safe to report crimes of sexual violence.

I do not make the comparison between my disease and Ell’s alleged assault lightly. I have never experienced this type of sexual violence and no part of me can imagine Ell’s pain and frustration, or that of the thousands of women who are subject to rape on college campuses.

That said, I know that UP was there for me during my darkest hour. During a time when I was scared, when I could have felt alone, UP provided support and love from all angles.

They were there for me because helping cancer patients is a safe and easy thing to do. Everyone knows that cancer is bad. It does not take courage to stand with cancer survivors.

It takes immense courage to stand with women and survivors of sexual violence.

Ell’s case has made it more clear to me than ever that the University of Portland lacks this courage. They lack structures for accountability. They lack resources that protect women and victims of violence. Ell’s story sends a loud message that the University of Portland is a safe place for rapists.

I urge my fellow alumni/ae to withhold any financial support from the university until they prove that they stand with victims of violence.

Kevin Hershey is a 2012 UP alumnus and can be reached at khershey@ecfs.org.