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UWM students uncover 40 sexual harassment and assault allegations over four years

37 professors and staff accused over four years
Posted at 10:12 PM, Jan 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-23 23:45:43-05

Nearly 40 UWM professors and staff have been accused of sexual assault and harassment over the past four years, which was uncovered by UWM journalism students.

It all started with a class assignment. As a few students began investigating cases of harassment and assault, it only led to more questions.

UWM spokeswoman, Michelle Johnson, points out that there are 8,000 employees at UWM and—while any accusation of harassment or assault is unacceptable—40 allegations over four years is a relatively small number.

But the journalism students beg to differ, and are fighting for more transparency.

"I pay money go to this school," said Talis Shelbourne. "I expect that I should have the right to know certain things."

"We do work really hard to make sure that we don't mislead anybody, and we don't get information wrong," said Jennifer Rick. 

"I've chosen to pursue journalism because I know that if a door is closed, a window has to be cracked somewhere," said Miela Fetaw.

Shelbourne, Rick, and Fetaw have filed dozens of open records requests, and did hours of research.

"I've learned a lot through this process," Shelbourne said. "But hopefully the administrators have learned something too."

UWM confirms what the students found: In the past four years, 40 sexual assault and harassment allegations were recorded against 37 professors and staff.

Johnson clarifies that an actual violation was found in 11 of those cases.  Of those 11, at least nine resulted in employee termination.

"We take this seriously," Johnson said. "We investigate every allegation, but sometimes allegations are not found to be true. We are committed to raising awareness and always providing a good atmosphere on campus for everyone. I think what has happened over the years is we were taking action, but nobody knew we were taking action."

The student journalists believe that's the problem. They're waiting on details about the investigations.

"We still have open records requests that are pending from months ago," Fetaw said. "It shouldn't be so difficult to acquire this information. We've experienced quite a pushback from the university, campus police, and even Milwaukee Police."

Johnson insists that UWM is not withholding information, and sent a letter to the journalism professor asking her to make sure student journalists are not indicating that the university is doing so.

"Some of our records dating back about 12 years, are not necessarily electronic," she said. "On top of that, compiling the data may involve several different computer databases. The university has one person in charge of handling all information requests. It's a challenge."

However long it takes, you can guarantee these young women will not back down. 

"Doing this work is important and necessary," Fetaw said. "UWM is a second home to us, and a part of being home is holding family members accountable, and all we're trying to do is hold this university accountable."

According to UWM, in the past 10 years the school has settled with one victim for about $10,000. University leaders say if accusations are proven true, disciplinary action is always taken. We're told university employees also undergo sexual harassment training. 

By law, a faculty member can object to the university making their personnel files public.