UNH Inquiry Finds Discrimination and Harassment in Student Senate

Feb 14, 2020

Credit Jordyn Haime

An inquiry into the University of New Hampshire’s student senate by the school’s Dean of Students office found evidence of sexual harassment, grooming, and an overall hostile environment, especially toward female members.

In November 2019, a former member of the student senate spoke with staff of the UNH student newspaper, The New Hampshire, about concerns with the senate. That student later went to the Dean of Students office, which launched the inquiry. A  summary, published in The New Hampshire, describes a “hostile environment” toward women within the student senate and evidence of grooming younger members for future positions.

“…comments were commonly directed toward the physical appearance of female Senators and officers, that sexual jokes and banter frequently occurred in the Senate offices, causing at least some female Senators and officers to avoid the Senate offices,” the report states.

Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick said the university addressed similar behavior within the student governing body in 2016 and 2017, but reports in December called for a deeper inquiry.

“This is not something - I can say with some confidence - that arose suddenly. Rather, this is something that has been circulating for a while and has reached a pitch this year,” Kirkpatrick said.

“I guess the efficacy of that approach, probably now, in today’s light, was not what I hoped it would be. I can tell you that we have taken appropriate steps in the wake of the inquiry report that are targeted toward the students that we believe were part of the problem,” he added.

UNH is still determining what further actions to take, Kirkpatrick says. According to The New Hampshire’s report, two student senate members have stepped down from their positions, but it is unclear whether they were connected to the inquiry. Both declined to comment or did not respond to NHPR’s requests for comment.

Student senate meetings, which usually occur weekly, have been suspended until Feb. 23.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include more information about the role of the UNH student newspaper.

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