“Zero Tolerance for Sexual Assault”: Students and Staff Demand Condemnation of Professor Alan Lopez24 March 2021
content warning: sexual harassment and sexual assault, in no explicit detail
Despite wet and windy conditions, protesters gathered outside MacFarland Court this afternoon to call for the University to publicly condemn Professor Alan Lopez.
Earlier this month, an article published by The Age revealed that the University had allowed Professor Lopez to retain his roles as Laureate Professor and Rowden-White Chair of Global Health despite an independent inquiry finding him guilty of sexually harassing a female colleague two years ago.
The rally was organised by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Women’s Officer Bearers Srishti Chatterjee and Mickhaella Ermita, and included speeches from both students and staff members.
According to Chatterjee, “men like [Lopez] are not in positions of power in spite of the fact that they assaulted someone—they are there because they assaulted someone.”
“That act of violence is an act of silencing. That is one less woman who becomes a Laureate Scholar because she is scared, and one more man who does instead because they have seen there are no consequences for them in this situation.”
In addition to publicly condemning Professor Lopez, the rally’s organisers also demanded that the University commit to a standalone, University-wide sexual assault and campus safety policy, and implement survivor-centric, trauma-informed responses to sexual assault and harassment.
Ermita stressed the importance of the University committing to these changes.
“If there’s no consistent policy, that means that responses aren’t consistent and students don’t know where to go to seek help,” she said.
“Having the policy in place shows the University will acknowledge that there is a problem… and will also try and ease how students feel, because right now they don’t trust the University to help them with these issues.”
The story about Professor Lopez is just one of several high profile cases about cover ups of sexual misconduct by University staff in the last few years.
In April 2020, it was revealed that the University paid $700,000 to a former PhD student who alleged she was sexually assaulted and harassed by a professor.
On several occasions, Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell has expressed that the University has a “zero tolerance policy” towards sexual assault.
Despite this, many have argued that the story about Professor Lopez is just the latest example of the University failing to adhere to this approach.
“This kind of culture comes from the top,” said UMSU President Jack Buksh.
“Every single time, the University falls short of its obligation to provide a safe environment on campus. They protect perpetrators at the expense of survivors.”
Farrago reached out to the University for comment on this story, but did not receive a response.