Campus protest demands suspension of student accused of sexual assault

Video produced by Robert Tann.

Students gathered Monday to protest the University of Colorado, Boulder’s handling of sexual assault cases and to share their experiences of sexual assault. The protest included one person who said Roper sexually abused her several years ago.

The “Expel Abusers” protest was organized by CU students Kat Stanley and Melanie Ferreira and attended by several dozen people, mostly women. The protest was organized in response to the arrest of Zachary Roper, a CU student who was arrested last week after allegedly sexually assaulting a sorority member in January. He is currently out on bail and has been charged with two counts of felony sexual assault.

“No victim of sexual assault should sacrifice their own education because they’re afraid they might see their attacker on campus,” Stanley said at the beginning of the protest.

Students gathered by the University Memorial Center fountain at noon to call on CU to suspend Roper until his trial in April and to subsequently expel him should he be found guilty. Protesters held signs which read “hold CU accountable” and “I believe survivors” and took turns speaking from a megaphone about their experiences of sexual abuse.

“Do we go into thousands of dollars of debt so we can run into our assailants on campus?” Sam West, a communication graduate student, asked as protesters cheered. “We pay for a non-hostile environment.”

“Rape is a man’s issue,” said junior Chris Castañeda, who urged men not to be bystanders to sexual assault. “If you let it happen, you are complicit in the violence.”

Several of the speakers identified themselves as survivors of sexual violence.

“As a victim of rape, seeing all the support from the entire CU community gives me hope that we can bring about these changes if we work together and support each other,” said Sage Yeager-Wheaton, a member of the “Expel Abusers” campaign.

One of the speakers who came forward was an Erie High School student who said that Roper sexually abused her several years ago when she was 12 years old. Her name is not published because she is a minor.

“I thought I was the last one,” she said to the crowd through tears. “There was evidence just like in this case, there was witnesses just like in this case. Please suspend Zach Roper and expel him if he is found guilty.”

The student told the CU Independent that Roper attempted to sexually assault her when they were on a family vacation together in Glenwood three years ago. Roper was a close family friend and she said she had considered him like a cousin.

She reported the assault in the fall of 2018. According to reporting done by the Daily Camera, the Glenwood Springs police department received a sexual assault complaint against Roper but the district attorney declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence.

The student said that Roper’s mother told her that he was sorry for what he had done and that he was getting therapy.

“I thought I was going to be the last person that happened to because Roper told me he was sorry,” she said. When she found out last week that he had been arrested for sexual assault, the sympathy she had previously had for him turned to anger. She decided to come to the protest to share her story in support of his other victim, and said that she was surprised to learn that expelling students convicted of sexual assault was not a matter of course.

A statement from the university said that “CU Boulder’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance investigates every report of sexual misconduct through a fair and impartial process that respects the rights and dignity of all parties involved. The university is committed both to individual and community safety and provides numerous support services.”

“It is critical that students know the university has an established process for reviewing, investigating and taking action on all reported cases of sexual assault,” the statement continued. “If a student is found responsible, sanctions for sexual misconduct include suspension or expulsion, depending on the severity of the case. Due to federal student privacy laws, information cannot be provided on specific student discipline cases.”

According to CU’s 2015 sexual misconduct survey, 28 percent of undergraduate women and 6 percent of undergraduate men reported being sexually assaulted while in college, and 92 percent did not report their assault to the university or police.

The “Expel Abusers” campaign is a coordinated effort by the International Socialist Organization, Young Democratic Socialists of America and the UMAS y MEXA chapters at CU to change CU’s policies around campus sexual assault. They will be holding a meeting this Thursday to finalize a list of demands for the university.

Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Carina Julig at carina.julig@colorado.edu.

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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