U of R, VCU among 272 schools facing federal Title IX investigation

Infographic by Desiree Choe and Fadel Allassan. For exclusive use by the Commonwealth Times.
Infographic by Desiree Choe.

brockturnerYou don’t have to read far into Cecelia “CC” Carreras’ essay before she discloses that a University of Richmond administrator told her it was reasonable to be penetrated without her consent “for a few more minutes if (her attacker) was going to finish.”

The claim is just one of many similar allegations made by the U of R senior in two essays published by the Huffington Post last week. Shortly after Carreras’ essays went viral online, the Huffington Post posted U of R junior Whitney Ralston’s separate account of the administration also mishandling her sexual assault.

“The climate on campus is very tense,” said U of R junior Rennie Harrison, who is a member of the school’s Sexual Misconduct Student Advisory Board and one of 28 members on the national student committee for the Obama administration’s It’s On Us campaign. “Many students and faculty remain disgusted and angry at the university’s mishandling of sexual assault cases.”

In Carreras’ first HuffPo essay, published Sept. 6, she describes U of R’s mishandling of her sexual assault complaint against a student-athlete she refers to as “Spider Athletics’ own Brock Turner.” The reference is to the Stanford University swimmer who was unanimously convicted of rape by a jury, but was sentenced to just three months in jail earlier this year.

Carreras stated her alleged assailant still attends U of R despite a 10 hour-long hearing, 93-page appeal and documented violations of a no-contact order. Carreras also cited a survey published by The Collegian, the college’s student newspaper, in April 2015 stating 12.6 percent of the 649 female respondents said they had been sexually assaulted. Half said they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual behavior.

U of R responded to Carreras’ first HuffPo essay the next day with a mass email to students stating many of Carreras’ assertions are inaccurate and “do not reflect the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated and adjudicated at the university.”

“To be clear: we stand against sexual misconduct,” the university said in the email. “Sexual misconduct is an issue that affects all campuses across the nation, and we are working to care for those affected and to reduce instances here at the University of Richmond, with the goal of eliminating sexual misconduct altogether.”

The email did not specify which parts of Carreras’ account the administration considered inaccurate, citing privacy laws, but it did encourage students to continue reporting cases of sexual assault and the institution is “deeply saddened” to read Carreras’ essay. A spokesperson for Richmond acknowledged receipt of questions from the CT, but did not give comment.

The University of Richmond joins 270 institutions under investigation for mishandling cases of sexual assault. Photo by Julie Tripp. The Commonwealth Times.
The University of Richmond and VCU join 270 other colleges and universities under federal investigation for mishandling Title IX cases. Photo by Julie Tripp.

From fall 2014 through Feb. 25, 2015, the U of R Title IX office received 62 reports of Title IX offenses ranging from non-consensual sexual intercourse to relationship violence, according to The Collegian.

“We want to see change,” said Harrison, the U of R junior who is a member of the school’s Sexual Misconduct Student Advisory Board. “We want increased transparency from our administration. We want to feel confident that rapists will not be allowed on our campus.”

Harrison said many students and alumni have expressed disgust with the leniency surrounding sexual assault on campus and the “victim-blaming email sent out by administration, which insinuated CC lied.”

Carreras responded to U of R’s email with a second essay published by the Huffington Post on Sept. 8 titled “Richmond, y’all just had to say sorry. But instead you called me a liar. So, here are the receipts.”

The second essay included screenshots of emails exchanged with administration members and a text message from the athlete, all of which supported her claims of misconduct on behalf of the administration — particularly in regard to protecting the alleged rapist due to his status as a student-athlete.

THE TITLE IX PROBLEM

Carreras’ essays point to clear violations of Title IX policy, one of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex at any educational institution receiving federal funding.

infographic by Desiree Choe and Sarah King, for exclusive use by the Commonwealth Times.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights first disclosed that 55 colleges were under review for their handling of sexual assault cases in May 2014. A month later, 64 colleges and universities, including University of Richmond, James Madison University, University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary, were also under federal investigation.

Title IX law specifies students may withdraw consent to sexual intercourse at any time. Carreras claimed her alleged rapist confirmed to Daniel Fabian, the U of R Associate Dean and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, on three separate occasions that he remembered Carreras saying “stop” while he continued to assault her.

According to Carreras, Fabian told her the university would not be moving forward with her case because he believed it was reasonable for her alleged rapist to continue penetrating her so he could “finish.”

Carreras also alleged the U of R Title IX Coordinator and Director of Compliance, Maura Smith, insinuated multiple times her alleged rapist was confused when he said he heard Carreras say “stop,” although the administration does not deny Carreras was sexually assaulted.

Carreras further alleged in her HuffPo articles that her attacker violated a no-contact order, implemented Aug. 25, 2015, on nine occasions. A no-contact order means neither party can contact the other or go somewhere they know the other person will be. If the two happen to be in the same place, at least one must leave.

Carreras said the first violation occurred when she received two text messages from her alleged rapist which read “Wow” and “You’re unbelievable.”

Carreras included screenshots of these messages in her second essay, but the violations allegedly went unpunished because they were not investigated. In a screen-shotted email between Carreras and Fabian, the deputy Title IX coordinator, Fabian said her assailant texted her unknowingly.

Two more violations in December 2015 also went unpunished because, according to another screen-shotted email, Associate Dean for Residence Life Patrick Benner found no evidence the order had been in place at the time of the incidents.

Carreras’ assailant filed one violation against her, but his version of events directly contradicts hers. According to a screenshotted email from Smith, the deputy Title IX director of compliance, the violation was dismissed due to conflicting testimonies.

Carreras reported four other subsequent violations of the no-contact order. In a screenshotted email, Smith said she and Benner found enough evidence Carreras’ assailant had in fact violated the order. This was then designated to the dean, but it is unclear if any penalty was implemented.

“Whether school administrators were telling me the athletics department was breathing down their neck to wrap up the sexual assault case or whether his coach didn’t take him out of game day scenarios at practice, it seemed clear that Richmond would do whatever it took to keep him on the roster,” Carreras wrote.

THE OTHER GIRL

Following Carreras’ two essays on Sept. 6 and 8, the Huffington Post published a second U of R student’s essay on Sept. 9. This essay was penned by U of R junior Whitney Ralston, who alleged she had been violently stalked, raped and manipulated — with lack of appropriate response from administration.

“(The administration) told me that he was going to stay and if I couldn’t deal with it, I could look into transferring,” Ralston said.

Ralston said she was told the possible charges against her attacker ranged from kidnapping, assault and battery, identity theft, sexual assault, dating violence, theft and both emotional and physical abuse. Ralston said because her assailant plead guilty for one charge of violence, her right to appeal was waved and she was not granted a hearing.

“I’m not going to tell you the graphic details of my rape. I’m not going to tell you every instance that led to this man stealing my passport, stealing my money, hitting me, dragging me across the floor and isolating me from my friends and family,” Ralston wrote in the HuffPo article.

Ralston stated her experience included the man also sending falsified college admission emails to her younger sister and threatening to kill a close friend.

“You especially don’t need to know how he coerced me to do what he said by threatening to call the police to have me arrested for being ‘suicidal’: a threat he validated with my medical history of major depression,” Ralston wrote.

Like Carreras’ account, Ralston claims her attacker also violated his no-contact order. According to Ralston, the no-contact order has been “openly violated” three times since her attacker’s sanction.

“I reported an episode of him following me for three hours to the appropriate conduct officer and they never called in my witness,” Ralston wrote. “The responsible dean yelled at me for ‘not letting (him) do (his) job.’”

Ralston said when she told administrators she was “terrified and couldn’t walk around campus without breaking down in fear,” their response was to make the story into an attempt to ruin her alleged assailant’s life.

Harrison, the U of R junior and member of the Sexual Misconduct Student Advisory Board, said Carreras and Ralston’s allegations caused a noticeable stir on campus in the aftermath of their published testimonies.

“Some professors have even facilitated classroom conversation about the recent events,” Harrison said. “It is reassuring to know many faculty members are in support of the students, and denounce the mishandling of sexual assault and subsequent university response to CC’s articles.”

Harrison said she was vocal at the school’s previously-scheduled “It Ends Now” event, held Sept. 8 on the same day Carreras’ second essay published, which Harrison said was marketed as a dialogue between students and administration.

“It Ends Now” is an annual, week-long project at U of R where the campus community makes a point of educating and discussing issues of sexual violence and prevention.

“This has been probably one of the most difficult weeks in my presidency here, and certainly in my career,” the Collegian reported U of R president Ronald Crutcher saying at an It Ends Now event, following the HuffPo articles.

At the Sept. 8 “It Ends Now” forum, Harrison said administration attempted to dismiss questions, and some attendees walked out in protest. The next day, Harrison said she attended a student-led meeting, “It Ends Now Pt. 2,” where more than 75 students discussed the events of the past week and planned a response for U of R’s first home football game the next day.

“I think the accounts of CC and Whitney have shown that the administrative mishandling and covering up of sexual assault cases is also a major issue,” Harrison said. “And that’s heartbreaking. For students to feel that we will not be protected by our administration — in fact, that the decisions of administration will make students more unsafe — is shockingly unacceptable.”

On Saturday, students protested the first home football game, and the Collegian reported sophomore football player Jacob Roberson tucked a blue “It Ends Now” shirt into his uniform pants during warm-ups. According to the Collegian, Roberson promised students who attended the “It Ends Now Pt. 2” event he would display solidarity with the cause.

NOT ALONE

U of R is joined by VCU and 270 other colleges and universities currently being investigated by the Department of Education for their handling of a Title IX cases, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Title IX tracking tool. Fifty-two cases have been closed.

In Virginia, six schools are currently under investigation, including VCU which has two pending investigations and one which was resolved in 2011. U of R, the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, the University of Virginia and Washington and Lee University each have one pending.

In April 2014, VCU President Michael Rao signed a resolution agreement with Office of Civil Rights regarding two federal complaints against the university. The resolution agreement took effect one week before the U.S. Department of Education publicly released the first list of colleges and universities under investigation on May 1, 2014.

Infographic by Desiree Choe and Fadel Allassan. For exclusive use by the Commonwealth Times.

Of the two complainants responsible for the federal investigation, one case involved a VCU employee stating a tenured faculty member raped her on her penultimate day of work for the university before she left the state for graduate school.

Upon the VCU employee’s return to campus in a full-time capacity after completing her Master’s, she stated her attacker exhibited retaliatory behaviors that eventually warranted the services of VCU’s threat assessment team, a specific safety plan, and the Richmond and VCU police departments.

Among numerous other grievances cited by the employee in her complaint to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in 2013, the employee stated the VCU administration subjected her to a process she was unclear about and not comfortable engaging in because she was fearful of retribution or compromising her safety.

The employee stated the administration’s response caused her physical and emotional consequences due to “lack of timeliness, structure, and transparency in conducting this investigation.”

“The university seems to have almost a conflict of interest. For them, caring means being at risk for bad publicity, being at risk for higher numbers about campus crime (…) I definitely encountered the attitude of ‘this is complicated and we don’t like complicated things,’ (…) kind of pushing back the burden of the situation on the person who comes forward,” the employee stated in an interview with the CT in September 2014.

In an effort to affirm its commitment to better handling Title IX related cases, VCU has since aggregated resources online, updated its procedures, held forums, promoted awareness and formed the Office of Equity and Access, which resides directly under VCU president Michael Rao, to oversee Title IX and civil rights compliance.


NEWS EDITOR

Fadel Allassan. Photo by Julie TrippFadel Allassan
Fadel is a junior political science major. He is fluent in English, French and Sarcasm, and he probably doesn’t like you. Fadel enjoys writing about local, regional and national politics and making people drive him to Cook-Out. Fadel was a feature writing finalist in the Society of Professional Journalists Region 2 competition last year. He is also too stubborn to write his own bio, so his executive editor had to do it for him. No hard feelings, though.
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allassanfg@commonwealthtimes.org


EXECUTIVE EDITOR

Sarah King. Photo by Julie TrippSarah King
Sarah is a senior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, the Virginia Press Association awarded Sarah 3rd place for Public Safety Writing Portfolio and the Hearst Awards recognized her as the 4th place winner for Breaking News Writing. In April, Sarah was invited to the White House for the Administration’s innaugural College Reporter Day. She previously worked as an editorial intern for as Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C., as well as RVAmag and GayRVA.com
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kingsa@commonwealthtimes.org

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