Title IX unrest: sexual assault on campus


Senior Margaret Gros thanks the students who stood outside the Greek Council meeting as a sign of support. Photo by Tony Dzik.

Thea Gonzales

When the Title IX panelists took their seats in Centennial Hall on Monday, Jan. 29, the room fell silent. The tense conversations ceased as students, faculty and staff lifted their eyes to the stage. The restless energy of an estimated 280 people was palpable.
The panel, made up of chief Title IX coordinator Laura Ford, deputy Title IX coordinator of student matters Chris Beyer and Rock Island Police Department commander of criminal investigations Tim McCloud, was assembled at a forum held by the Student Government Association (SGA) to address the growing unrest about sexual assault procedures at Augustana.
The forum was the culmination of a month of frustration on the Augustana campus. Students want to know why it took two weeks for the administration to notify the student body of a sexual assault, administrators are hamstrung by Title IX laws, which restrict communication to protect the privacy of survivors, and at least one student feels let down by the school as she deals with the aftermath of her own assault.
The panelists set aside 45 minutes for questions after a 15-minute explanation of Title IX policy. At this announcement, rumblings echoed through the crowd as students waited for their turn to speak.
The breaking point arrived when junior Noah-Christina Reed shot to her feet 12 minutes past the panel’s allotted time to ask – without microphone or permission – “What will Augustana do to make us students feel safe from a walking predator on campus?”
After she spoke, applause erupted through the auditorium, accompanied by a flurry of raised hands. During the rest of the forum, about 40 people spoke out. SGA president Alan Daly and area coordinator of first-year experience Michelle Mason rushed to meet them with microphones. Other students made their grievances known freely, standing to voice their questions and accusations: “I was raped and you did nothing.” “My rapist was allowed to be a CA.” “What does Title IX really do for us?”
In response, forum moderator and deputy Title IX coordinator of faculty matters Dr. Wendy Hilton-Morrow asked students to come talk to her and the other panelists afterwards. She repeated that request multiple times throughout the forum.
Augustana’s Title IX web page states “information pertaining to such incidents will be treated with sensitivity and disseminated with care when it is necessary to do so for purposes of conducting an investigation or taking appropriate corrective action,” which leads to the balancing of interests that Title IX administrators face when students are concerned about the lack of information being shared with the Augustana community.
When Hilton-Morrow faced questions about processes related to specific cases, her answers had to be limited because Title IX regulations call for information shared with a confidential source to not be shared with other individuals.
An example of a confidential resource on campus is Pastor Richard Priggie, who attended the forum to gain more insight into what students are feeling about the process and how he could help survivors. He expressed his concerns over his role in the initial responses to assaults and what can be done through student input.
“I am not going to be at a party on campus at midnight some Friday and Saturday night to hold students accountable. I mean I’m not and no one is, and really the burden falls on the students to I think support one another and hold one another accountable,” Priggie said. “Again I’ve been hearing there’s been student meetings now that are happening that are talking about those very things and I think that’s essential that students step up to the plate and support one another.”
The legal inability to be fully transparent with the student body had Title IX administrators repeating information, which frustrated students.
For example, when Hilton-Morrow suggested that the panel outline resources for students on campus, a chorus of “We already know!” rang out from the audience.
“I had no intention of asking a question,” Reed said afterward. “I know this is a serious issue, and the fact that they decided to basically stall over answering questions just – it finally got to me so I had to say something. Administration can’t continue to deflect the issue. … There’s an auditorium full of students who want answers, and they weren’t trying to give us any real answers.”
Tensions rose as recent Title IX investigations continued, escalating after a special Greek Council meeting with a Title IX representative as the guest speaker last Thursday, Jan. 25. Outside the closed meeting, members of Greek chapters and non-Greeks gathered and chanted sayings such as “Title IX protects the swine” and “Real people don’t rape.”
Students such as junior and Delta Chi Theta member Grace Cowan expressed a desire for Title IX policies – many of which were written at the federal level – at Augustana to be reformed. “It’s not right how sexual assault cases are dealt within the school and community in general,” Cowan said. “Look around at how many people are here. This is obviously an issue that a lot of people are serious about and the school is doing nothing for anybody that’s a victim.”
Although students have expressed disappointment in the way they perceive Title IX violations being handled at Augustana, Beyer said the time it takes to investigate sexual violence cases is longer than cases involving breaking the school’s alcohol policy because of the thorough procedures that need to take place.
“There’s no policy that you could violate on this campus that gets a more rigorous response than the Title IX policy,” Beyer said.
According to Dean Campbell, the outcry from students is something the administration is listening to, and wants it to be an ongoing conversation in order to improve the college through a partnership.
“We want to turn the concern into action. And, so, we want students to populate these committees. We want students to send us suggestions,” Campbell said. “We want students to work within the student body with Student Government Association, with Greek Council, with athletics… We want to support that.”
What happened at Augustana is only one example of a nationwide struggle with sexual violence on college campuses, sophomore and Chi Alpha Pi member Callista Staker said.
“After hearing the story of what happened and hearing that Title IX wasn’t there supporting the victim,” Staker said, “I just wanted to do something about that, even if it’s just coming here and standing in solidarity with her.”
The unrest stemmed from senior and Delta Chi Theta member Margaret Gros’s case, a story that frustrates students for many reasons, but especially because of the time it took for students to be notified of the incident.
At 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, two days after burying her mother, Augustana senior Margaret Gros woke up with vomit on her clothes and all over her desk. The last thing she remembered was being at the Phi Omega Phi (Poobah) house, watching a friend drink out of a plastic cup across the room and thinking she should help her.
Confused, Gros called a friend that morning, who told her she sounded drugged out, that she did not sound like “a person.” She then went back to sleep, but when she woke again, she wasn’t feeling well. She asked her father, a physician, what to do. The next morning, she went to the doctor. She said a nurse found deep vaginal bruising, bruising on her arms and bruising underneath her butt. After the examination, the nurse got a rape kit and called the police.
Her father contacted the school, and within a day, Augustana’s Title IX team reached out to Gros to begin filing her report.
It would take 14 days from her initially filing the assault details for an Incident Report to be sent to the campus community through email.
Gros said the assault happened at the Poobah house, three doors down from where she lives. Jake Speechley, president of Phi Omega Phi, said he could not confirm it happened there. However, he said, “It wasn’t associated with the fraternity, but a party that our house, somehow created an environment for this to become possible, and even though it wasn’t a Poobah event, it was mostly our guys there and we just feel horrible.”
Four Greek Council representatives separately told The Observer that Speechley apologized and issued a formal statement on behalf of Phi Omega Phi during the Greek Council meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25.
The morning before the forum, Gros pulled her investigation from the Augustana Title IX team because she said she’s tired. According to Gros, she doesn’t want Augustana to know her business anymore. She said she’s given them everything they’ve asked for and still has kept running into obstacles through the investigation.
“I have decided to pull [my case] from Title IX because I don’t know if it’s doing anything. It’s one thing if they would have been helping me through this and really listening to me, but I felt like everytime I asked for something I got told ‘no…’ There’s a whole part of this story that people don’t know. It makes me sad.”
Before pulling her report from Augustana’s Title IX team, Gros took an active role in the investigation. She started going to Greek meetings to tell all 14 of the chapters her story, which was the spark for the gathering outside of the Greek Council meeting on Jan. 25 and the push for further conversation during the forum meeting on Jan. 29.
Though it is difficult for her to relive her experience every time she tells her story, she said it’s something she needs to do to make sure people know they need to be safe.
“As much as it upsets me and scares the crap out of me, I have the support to do this. Maybe a lot of the survivors didn’t have the support to do what I’m doing when it happened, but I do and I’m very blessed for that,” Gros said. “I don’t think it’s fair people have sat in silence and bottled it up for it to kill them inside. I’m not letting that happen to anyone anymore.”
Now, Gros’s goal is to spread awareness about Title IX policy at Augustana with dialogue across campus, even though “I know I’m not going to find the guy who did this. I know it’s going to be a dead end. I know all of that. There isn’t enough evidence.”
In particular, Gros hopes the campus community attends an event this Saturday, Feb. 3, where students, faculty and staff will gather to meet in the lower quad at 6:30 p.m. to participate in a 15-minute, silent candlelight vigil march from the Augustana campus to the Quad City Botanical Garden Center in support of sexual assault survivors.
According to Gros, Phi Omega Phi cancelled their fraternity anniversary, otherwise known as “Poobah Birthday,” and gave the rented-venue time to her for this event, called “Take Care of All of Us: Bringing Survivors’ Voices into the Light.”
The event is intended neither as a protest nor as a retaliation to recent events, but to open discussion to survivors and supporters and to make their voices heard. Speakers from +impact will be speaking at the venue, along with survivors.
“I feel like in every situation where people have talked to me, the survivor in the story just gets beat to [expletive] until they don’t want to talk anymore,” Gros said. “That shouldn’t be how it is. They took something from me and from other survivors that they’re never going to get back.”
On Monday, Jan. 29, the same night as the Title IX forum, the Greek Council held another special meeting, this time with just representatives from the fraternities. During this meeting members of the seven fraternity chapters agreed on amendments to their constitutions regarding sexual assault and possession of Rohypnol or “roofies.”
According to the “Rohypnol Amendment,” as it has been called by the fraternities who were at the Greek Council meeting, any member found in possession of the Rohypnol drug or any drug similar shall be immediately removed from the fraternity without exception. Possession of a drug includes “holding onto the roofies for another person,” and violators shall be deactivated from the fraternity without exception.
Additionally, any member who tries to help another person to obtain such a drug shall also be deactivated. This includes selling, holding onto, purchasing or creating the roofies. Any member who violates this amendment directly shall be deactivated without exception, even if the intended sexual assault or other activity does not occur.
Montse Ricossa, the Greek Life President, said, “We have already been taking steps forward and we’ve been planning these things, but now obviously everything has been sped up because people want us to answer more quickly, which is reasonable, but we need to make sure things go out properly instead of quickly.”
According to junior and Rho Nu Delta member Andrew Thumann, his chapter has already established policy to deal with members who are found responsible for sexually assaulting someone.
“Our fraternity, Rho Nu Delta, has a zero-tolerance policy for anything sexual-assault related,” Thumann said. “If it happens, that person is out of our fraternity, and we don’t even think twice about it. We encourage all the other fraternities and sororities to put that in their constitution and make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone ever again.”
The need to address sexual assault in regards to Greek life may be pushing forward rushed solutions.
“Right now, I feel like it is a witch hunt after [Poobahs], which I know wasn’t the intention of all of the groups,” Ricossa said, “People need to keep in mind that even when we are going through rush, not one person action’s dictates the whole chapter.”
In a statement issued by President Bahls that was emailed to all of campus, Bahls let students know that he heard their concerns, and that administrative change was going to come as a result of them.
Bahls called for changes in Augustana policy, including a review by a third party of the college’s policies surrounding sexual-assault prevention, ruling on sexual-assault complaints, and support systems, along with a review of campus notifications of sexual violence to the student population. Included was a demonstrated desire to create a task force that will report directly to Bahls until he is satisfied that the college is addressing the issue fairly. President Bahls also asked students, faculty and staff to share their experiences and suggestions with the task force.
In an interview over email with The Observer, President Bahls said that plans to look for students and faculty who will make up the task force are underway. According to him, finding both a Student Safety and Wellness Coordinator as well as putting together the task force are top priorities.
“I have started to ask for nominations for the task force. I hope to name the task force by the end of next week,” Bahls said. “The task force will determine when their first meeting will be and I will encourage them to start as quickly as possible. … I am meeting with the college’s Committee on Sexual Health and Violence Prevention on Friday to seek their ideas on how we can make our students feel safe.”
Additionally, the search for a Student Safety and Wellness Coordinator will be chaired by Dr. Jessica Schultz and Beyer, who will name those involved in the committee to be started as soon as possible. According to Bahls, “I’m open to naming an interim director if we can find the right person. Students will be on the search committee.”
From the Title IX team, chief coordinator Ford said she thinks this great unrest is the beginning of positive changes on campus.
“I think there’s huge potential at this particular moment on our campus to make some positive changes and involve students in those positive changes,” Ford said. “So, while I think sometimes that feedback is sometimes hard to hear and we certainly don’t enjoy hearing the pain of our students … on the positive side [there is] so much interest and willingness to be part of a solution, and that’s very exciting.”
However, some of the recent rhetoric and agitation in student conversations expressed at the forum has some faculty worried about the effect this unrest has on student-administration relations.
“My greatest concern right now is that all of this could have a chilling effect on people coming forward and kind of getting recourse, and that frightens me. So, for that reason, it’s vital that we re-establish trust and educate students, and make sure that they feel like they understand what’s involved in Title IX,” Beyer said.
In reflection of the events that transpired the past few weeks, communications professor Dr. Sharon Varallo senses a deep hurting within the community that has manifested in the actions and words of frustrated students, faculty, staff and administrators alike.
“My fear is that this will be presented as a black-and-white issue. … What I was seeing felt like a fractured community. … The biggest takeaway was that was a scream of pain,” Varallo said.
She said she hopes that Augustana’s future is one that considers the viewpoints of all who are involved as valid stakeholders in the discussion. Most of all, she hopes that through this pain, Augustana comes together in unity and understanding.
“Remember please that students, faculty, administrators and staff  – all groups – have survivors in them,” Varallo said. “We are Augustana, we are part of that pain. I don’t know all of the answers and there’s certainly not one answer, and there’s no one group that can fix this.”
Marlen Gomez, Brady Johnson, Kevin Donovan, Tony Dzik, Collin Schopp and Natalie Spahn contributed to the story.
Photo above: Senior Margaret Gros thanks the students who stood outside the Greek Council meeting as a sign of support. Photo by Tony Dzik.