Victims challenge school on handling of sexual assaults

*Student’s name has been changed

In the past several weeks, students have raised questions in public and private about how allegations of sexual assault were handled by the Knox administration. As recommendations from the Grievance Panel Task Force are currently being finalized, several issues concerning that process have been raised by students and victims of sexual assault.

Main concerns about how the administration deals with sexual assault include whether victims are given the option to take their case to the Galesburg Police Department, whether there are sufficient consequences for those who commit sexual assault, whether having the same person be a Greek advisor and the Dean of Students presents a conflict of interest and whether there are enough services provided by the college to aid sexual assault victims.

Two students who have been victims of sexual assault felt that the administration handled their complaints inappropriately.

“I feel like they don’t take things as seriously as they should,” Gina*, a victim of sexual assault, said. “I’m not worried about myself, I’m worried about other women on campus.”

Gina and two other victims of sexual assault, Jan* and Samantha*, took issue with the way Dean of Students Xavier Romano dealt with their cases. Samantha said Romano discussed her case with her parents without having her a part of that conversation.

“I felt really re-victimized by this whole conversation,” said Samantha.

Gina is still living in the same school dormitory area with her assaulter. She requested that her assaulter move away. However, that has not happened.

Romano said the male student was placed under probation and understood the parameter that “he cannot access the other side [of the dorm building] where she [is] living and that was a violation of his probation.”

Samantha mentioned that she felt that Romano’s status as a Dean of Students and adviser to the Inter Fraternity Council was inappropriate because he has to support both sides of a conflict if the assaulter or victim is a member of a fraternity.

“There’s definitely a conflict of interest…by handling assaults and being so close to Greek life,” said Samantha.

During the discussion about sexual assault on campus in the Executive Committee meeting last Monday, sophomore Angie Ostaszewski raised the concern that one person could not devote equal attention to both roles because each position is meant to defend a different side in sexual assault cases.

Romano mentioned that when a problem arises within a Greek organization, penalties are dealt to them from the Knox administration as well as from their national chapter in some cases. Members of other campus organizations or theme houses only have the Knox administration to contend with when an issue arises.

“Because I advise [the fraternities], there’s not free walk,” said Romano. “Ultimately, I’m responsible for everything that happens outside the classroom.” He said he would like to have a Greek advisor who was not also a member of the administration. However, Knox may not be able to financially support that position.

Romano said that any of the Deans are available to counsel victims of sexual assault; students do not have to go through him. If a student feels uncomfortable speaking to Romano, they have other options available in the various Deans of the college.

“I certainly don’t consider myself the go-to person,” Romano said. “There’s multiple points of intake.”

However, there is still no faculty member on campus whose sole job is to be a sexual assault counselor.

Gina, along with Jan, said they were dissatisfied with the consequences given to the students who assaulted them. When asked about the consequences she would like to see for her assaulters, Jan requested that the usual consequences for assaulters be taken.

“I don’t know how colleges usually give consequences to people, but it should be something,” said Jan. “I’ve had to emotionally pay for it.”

Romano told Jan that he spoke with her assaulters and they expressed remorse and wanted her to feel safe on campus.

“I do not feel like that’s enough,” said Jan. “I feel like a second-hand apology is not enough.”

Jan said she was not communicated with about any other consequences given to her assaulters. Gina said she also requested consequences, though was unclear about the specifics about what she should be requesting.

“I don’t know enough about the system to know what they can do about it,” said Gina.

Gina said, in her experience, Romano said he would sit down with the student who she had accused of assault and would keep her updated. “He didn’t [keep me updated],” she said. “I e-mailed him three times with no response.” Romano said he did not receive these e-mails.

She also said, of the administration, “I have confidence that they will actually talk with the person involved and threaten them, but I have no confidence at all that they will take that next step.”

Currently, there are not standard consequences for students who commit sexual assault.

“It’s always a case-by-case basis,” said Romano. “At Knox, no two cases are alike.”

After experiencing assault, victims often struggle with deciding how to report their case. They have the option of reporting it to the Galesburg Police Department (GPD) or filing with the Knox College Grievance Panel. Samantha and Jan both sought counsel from Knox faculty members. Samantha spoke with head of the Grievance Panel professor Jason Helfer and decided to take her allegations to the police.

“I went to the cops. [Director of Campus Safety] John Schlaf contacted me right away,” said Samantha. “I think he genuinely cares. He even asked about my health.”

The case was filed in court. However, after Samantha went to court, she received a letter from her attacker’s lawyer she called “threatening.”

“I was scared out of proceeding with the trial,” Samantha said.

Jan initially thought about calling the police, but she decided she did not want to involve lawyers and felt she did not have enough evidence to be successful in her case. After speaking with other administrators, Jan felt her decision was the right one. She then decided to file with the Grievance Panel.

“Students are 100 percent of the time told they have the legal opportunity of the GPD,” said Romano. “We always encourage them to use the GPD option.”

Schlaf said he also talks to students about their options for reporting sexual assault.

“There is an effort to share with the person who is involved whether they want to use the police,” said Schlaf. “In a college setting, there are other options.”

Romano said that many students choose not to use the GPD in favor of the Grievance Panel and other support offered by the Knox administration. In order to go through the Grievance Panel process, the victim does not need evidence “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that the assault happened and consequences can be rendered with less evidence than would be necessary in a court of law. Schalf also mentioned that the Grievance Panel offers an alternative to using the criminal justice system that non-college students do not have.

Gina went to the Grievance Panel to learn about the process after she was assaulted and said, “I did not want to make a formal thing because it’s such a nasty process to go through. If the votes are negative, you’re just miserable on campus.”

“[Going to the police] is an option, [the victims] have to make the decision,” said Romano.

Jan took her case through the informal Grievance Panel process.

“It didn’t do anything as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “I thought there was a zero tolerance rule [on sexual assault], but it doesn’t feel like it.”

She wrote an account of the instance and a list of possible actions that could happen as an outcome of the panel process.

Many students also choose to speak with counselors at Knox and Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf. Schlaf, the former chief of police for the GPD, has been a source of support for victims as well as students who wish to participate in self-defense courses.

Students brought to the Grievance Panel talk through the situation with Panel members who are also members of the faculty and student body. When a student is found guilty of sexual misconduct, he or she is held accountable for his or her actions by the Panel.

Romano said that he feels like Knox’s current process is a good system with results that meet the standards he sets for a process that could potentially be of service to his own daughter.

Romano said that if students involved in a Grievance Panel case are unhappy with the results, they can appeal the Panel’s decision to Knox President Roger Taylor and he makes the final decision about the ruling.

Schlaf encourages students and faculty to report incidences of assault so they can be added to the reports of statistics that Campus Safety gathers every year in accordance with the Clery Reports.

When an instance of assault occurs, students often either call Campus Safety or contact a Dean in order to report the incident. From that point, the student is advised on their options in proceeding with their case, sometimes resulting in a Grievance Panel case.

For immediate help, the Knox Counseling Center offers a trained counselor for victims who is available in cases of an emergency.

“Students need to be clear when they’re in an emergency situation and when they’re not,” said Romano. “If [we] know an issue is critical, [we] can get them in.”

In the past, students have worked on a peer program that would provide support for victims. It is also possible in the future that Knox could offer victims time with a person who has sexual assault counseling training.

“There’s no doubt somebody that could fill that role … would be awesome,” said Romano.

Knox also has pamphlets about sexual assault readily displayed and available in several administrative offices and the Health Center. These pamphlets are also placed in every student mailbox at the beginning of the year.

Rules and procedures for the Grievance Panel are posted on the Knox Web site.

Sexual assault cases happen on college campuses around the country and in outside neighborhoods as well. The issue facing Knox is how to prevent further assaults and handle cases that do arise within a small yet diverse community.

“It’s an incredibly painful, emotionally difficult process,” said Romano.

Annie Zak

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