Administration, Campus Life, Crime and Safety, News

Professor Katharine Westaway asked not to return after controversial activism

Katharine Westaway, an outspoken lecturer who has been criticized over her handling of student sexual assault cases at the University of Miami, was asked not to return for the spring semester.

In an email sent to her former students, Westaway, a lecturer in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, said that on Dec. 17, 2015 she was informed that she was “fired.” In the email, titled “Dr. Westaway fired but Passing the Torch this Wednesday,” she claims that the firing “was certainly tied to my involvement in seeking justice and healing for sexual assault victims. And I am not looking for UM to re-hire me–because of the manner in which they treated me for the last eight months, I will never feel safe to work with victims or teach civic engagement at UM again.”

While school spokesperson Margot Winick said that the university does not comment on employment issues due to policy, she confirmed that Westaway was not reappointed for another term.

“The university categorically denies that the decision not to reappoint Professor Westaway had anything to do with her concerns about victims of sexual assault. These are concerns that the university shares.”

Westaway said that there was a downward spiral in her treatment at the university after she and her class launched the “Justice for Angela” campaign.

Canes Consent was refused funding to screen “The Hunting Ground,” a film about sexual assault on college campuses across the United States, according to Westaway.

“We got no funding to screen ‘The Hunting Ground’ from the WGS department, which is supposed to be having a sexual assault-themed year.”

The group was still able to screen the film at the Cosford Cinema on campus by using a free time slot at no charge around 3 p.m., according to Westaway.

Westaway said that she was shocked by her treatment because she previously had great relationships with her supervisors and superiors.

“I can give you past letters of my directors. They are glowing, because not only do I love and work on this field, but I am a workhorse in the department,” she said. “I do programming, I work with students, I do so much in the department that they really are supportive of me.”

Westaway was an ardent supporter of Angela Cameron, a student at the school who accused another student, David Jia, of raping her in April of 2014.

“For me, it’s not a choice. It’s like, you see someone, they’re flailing in the ocean, you’re sitting on the sand. It’s not a choice; you go after them, you try to save them,” Westaway said of her activism.

Jia was suspended by the Dean of Students Ricardo D. Hall for the following fall semester, but allowed to return in the spring of 2015. Police declined to charge Jia due to a lack of evidence, but Hall found that Jia had violated the school’s student conduct policy. Jia was found responsible by the university of sexual assault, sexual violence and intimate partner violence.

When he returned in the spring, the Canes Consent group founded by Westaway collected thousands of signatures on a petition to deny Jia, a senior, the ability to graduate at the school. He was ultimately allowed to walk at the graduation ceremony that spring.

Cameron then alleged that Jia had beaten her twice during the semester, but the Coral Gables Police Department released a report in which they said they could not place Jia at the locations where Cameron claimed to have been beaten. Then-President of UM Donna Shalala later released a statement that labeled the beating accusation as “unfounded.”

Westaway said she still stands by the “Justice for Angela” campaign, considering it a necessary movement at the university.

“It absolutely needed to have the antiseptic of sunlight. Angela was mistreated, she was broken by the school,” she said.

Westaway said that the Dean of Students Office even put a “gag order” on her shortly before Cameron went on leave from the school in the fall of 2015.

“It’s bitterly, bitterly ironic that she received the same punishment that a rapist and batterer would receive. I don’t think she deserved it,” Westaway said.

Claire Oueslati-Porter now teaches the Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies class that Westaway taught. The National Organization for Women, of which Westaway was faculty advisor, will appoint a new advisor. According to Winick, the Sexual Assault Survivors Support Group is not an official group at the University.

Twelve students met with Westaway on Wednesday night in a conference room at a co-working space, where she encouraged them to continue what she started.

Westaway’s email directed recipients to sign an online petition calling for the school to make space in the new Lennar Foundation Medical Center for a Sexual Assault Survivor Support Center. The petition outlines a “seven room suite” for the support center, which “would include two therapy rooms, one forensics room for rape kits (with 24-hour access), one media room, one coordinator’s room and one room solely for group therapy and community and victim advocacy.”

“I would want victims to receive the utmost caring, quick, comprehensive, just treatment. I want them to be understood to be some of the most suffering people in the world,” Westaway said, “and I want them to be treated with great care.”

Correction, Jan. 15th, 4:18 p.m.: This article previously stated that Cameron was suspended for the fall semester of 2015.

January 13, 2016

Reporters

William Riggin

Isabella Cueto

Isabella Cueto can be reached via email at editor@themiamihurricane.com and through Twitter at @isabellacueto


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