Student starts national petition

Sawyer Loftus, Assistant Breaking News Editor

After a UVM sophomore reported her rape to University officials, she found a hole in UVM Policy allowing dismissed students to avoid disclosing past misconduct.

Sophomore Syd Ovitt started a petition aimed at flagging students who attempt to transfer to a new college or university after being dismissed for sexual misconduct, Ovitt said.

The petition, which has received national legislative attention, is called Explain the Asterisk.

She chose the name because of the simple asterisk placed at the bottom of a student’s transcript used to indicate all reasons for dismissal, ranging from poor grades to academic misconduct to sexual assault.

This is a practice at UVM and other college registrars to indicate why a student was dismissed, she said.

“We all know colleges take plagiarism and bad grades extremely seriously,” Ovitt said. “For some reason, that looks just as bad on a transcript as someone who was determined to have sexually assaulted someone.”

Ovitt started the petition after discovering the policy when she reported her own sexual assault in November 2017, she said.

Ovitt felt UVM’s disciplinary policies were not strict enough to fully protect students from future sexual assaults, she said.

UVM Communications Director Enrique Corredera said that the University is aware of the national conversation happening around sexual misconduct on college campuses, but no plans are in the works to change the policy.

“It has been a longstanding practice at the University based on established national best practices to view the transcript strictly as an academic record,” Corredera said.

The only way for the University to know if a student was dismissed from a previous institution for misconduct is if the student self-reports the information when applying, he said.

UVM doesn’t investigate to confirm if a transfer student is telling the truth when self-reporting conduct issues, nor does the University indicate if a former UVM student has been dismissed for sexual misconduct, Corredera said.

If legislation based off her petition were to pass in Vermont or nationally, UVM would be forced to change its policy, Ovitt said.

Since late March 2018, Ovitt has received increased support from Vermont legislators, including Vermont Representative Barbara Rachelson, and Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, she said.

Ovitt wrote to Welch March 25, and when he came to an event at UVM they had the chance to discuss her petition and potential legislation, Welch said.

“What Sydney’s talking about really makes sense,” he said. “I so appreciated her advocacy…and her acting so energetically to keep people from future harm.”

Congresswoman Jackie Speier attempted to introduce a “Safe Transfer Act,” in December 2016, which would have required universities to disclose on a student’s transcript if they were dismissed for sexual misconduct, Welch said.

Welch plans on cosponsoring a similar bill with Speier when she reintroduces the legislation, however when that will happen is unclear, he said.

“We’ve got a tough Congress, we’ve got a majority that does not step in to protect the rights of women,” Welch said. “They were resisting the Violence Against Women act for a long time-the Ryan Republican majority-it’s appalling.”

Judy Rickstad, UVM’s victim’s advocate, said that on a national and local level sexual assault is a significant problem.

Statistically, Rickstad said, 1 in 4 women will be assaulted during their first year at college. Data provided by the UVM office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity shows a steady increase in reported sexual assaults from 2013 to 2018 with a total of 194 reports in 2017.

Rickstad said that a change is needed to more clearly identify students dismissed for sexual misconduct.

“One of the problems is, if someone is dismissed from any campus for sexual assault, there’s no real flag if they transfer to another university,” Rickstad said. “What ends up happening is we’re really just passing our problem onto another campus without them realizing it.”

From the beginning Ovitt had help from UVM college democrats president Sam Donnelly, but she has taken on most of the work drafting legislation and funding the movment, she said.

Despite early progress in her movement, Ovitt said that the Asterisk movement is still in its early stages of development, with their first general meeting Sept. 26 at 6:30, in the Rosa Parks room, Ovitt said.


This version updated Sept. 24 to correct the statement from Ovitt that UVM uses the asterisk. The University includes language in transcripts about grades, as well as suspensions and dismissals resulting from academic dishonesty or academic performance, according to the Code of Academic Integrity.