Sophie Keefe, News Editor
“I genuinely felt that I was at one of the few good schools. I was at one of the few schools that was going to take care of me. That felt amazing; I felt so supported, like things were going to be okay for me.” This student, referred to as Source A, wishes to remain anonymous.
They were sexually assaulted in a residence hall during spring semester of their sophomore year at Augsburg. After several months of deliberation, healing and emotional recovery, they decided to report their experience to Augsburg’s administration. Further careful consideration led to the decision to start an administrative investigation into their case.
At first, they felt as though justice was inevitable. However, as they trudged deeper
into the investigative process, it became clear to Source A that the University was not responding to the allegations in the way they had imagined: treating one as victim, one as perpetrator. Rather, they become a complainant and a respondent. Both Augsburg students, both in need of protection under Title IX. In the end, the accused was found
responsible for sexual misconduct but remained enrolled at Augsburg and situated in an Augsburg residence hall.
A provost email to Augsburg faculty and staff sent out earlier this academic year regarding Title IX stated: “Each of us has a role to play in keeping Augsburg a safe and welcoming campus for all students. We are, as well, legally bound by the provisions of Title IX.” Title IX is a federal law issued as a part of the Education Amendment in
1972. It covers dating violence, domestic violence, gender-based discrimination, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual violence, stalking, date-rape drugs and sexual victimization.
The instructions in the email outline who is responsible for dealing with Title IX-related
topics. Any faculty or staff who work with students are required to report issues dealing with Title IX to Title IX coordinator Ann Garvey or to Sarah Griesse, who serves as student liaison to Garvey.
The first step in the sexual assault reporting process is a meeting with Griesse. Griesse has been the Dean of Students at Augsburg for a decade. She has been involved with student affairs ever since she received her Master’s. The student making the report chose from three different options. The first was to inform Griesse of any information the complainant (the person filling the report) felt necessary. Any information is taken into account in order to influence future sanctioning.
The second option was to ask administration to talk with the accused individual (the respondent), informing them that the University was aware of their alleged misconduct.
Since no one had formally been accused, a conversation took place to discuss consent and how things can go wrong. “We sit [the respondent] down and say, this was reported to us, what does it make you think about?” said Griesse. “It’s not oh, you know, these things happen … No.” The third option was to report and begin the investigationprocess. Source A chose this course of action. The respondent was called in first to an initial meeting where they were informed they were being accused. A second meeting was scheduled to go through all the details. “I want them to be able to enter this in a reasonable way,” said Griesse. “They’re our student. There may be allegations, but they’re our student, and we really care about them. We care about the complainant too because they’ve been wronged in some way. It’s a tricky balance to hold both people, but at this point there’s no judgement yet.”
Based on all of the information gathered, it was decided whether there had been a breach in policy or not. If not, the process ends there. If so, the next phase is a disciplinary meeting. For Source A, this was where the protocol began to crumble. There were significant discrepancies between their story and the respondent’s. They were called in a for a follow-up meeting where, according to Source A, their sobriety was repeatedly questioned. “They kept asking, had I been drinking? The thing is, I knew that, if anything, telling them I was drunk would have helped my case because then there could be no consent. But I hadn’t been drinking, and I wasn’t going to lie. Why would I lie? I was a firm believer that I was going to present my story in its truth even if it wasn’t flattering. There’s no room for lying,” they said.
At the end of the investigation process, both Source A and the accused were able to sit down and look through every piece of evidence collected during the investigation. Source A discovered the accused had claimed Source A was emotionally unstable
and abusive. They had also had hired a criminal defense attorney; Source A had not been
informed of this prior. “That’s just one of those moments you feel the floor drop,” they said.
The results of the investigation arrived via email just in time for the start of the new school year in September. Source A learned that Augsburg had found their attacker responsible of violating the sexual misconduct policy. The letter also outlined the sanctions set forth by the school. The respondent was to be moved into a new Augsburg residence hall, separate from the complainant. The respondent would not be forced to pay the difference. They were also put on social probation, meaning that they could still participate in all Augsburg activities, but any other broken rules could lead to harsher sanctioning.
On Sept. 15, Education Secretary under the Trump Administration Betsy DeVos rescinded
guidelines that ordered college campuses to use the lowest standard of proof, “preponderance of evidence,” to determine whether or not a student is guilty of sexual assault, according to “The New York Times.” Augsburg is a school that still uses the preponderance of evidence standard of proof. According to Griesse, it is problematic to say that accused individuals have been held to too high of a standard. She claims that some institutions work very hard and go through rigorous training to ensure that the investigation process is fair. “We’ve been anxious about it because we don’t know to what degree it will impact our work,” said Griesse.
The current sexual misconduct policy states that “Augsburg University strives to maintain a community free of sexual misconduct … The University works to create and maintain a positive learning, working, and living environment in which community members are aware of and respect the rights of others and in which community members take responsibility for their actions. To that end, the University prohibits sexual misconduct and will take steps to prevent its recurrence and to correct its effects.”
For victims like Source A who see their attacker on campus, admitting responsibility is
the bare minimum. Augsburg Day Student Government put forth resolutions to reform Augsburg’s sexual misconduct policy on Jan. 24. They addressed their requests to a host of Augsburg leaders and claimed to represent 12 sexual violence survivors who attend the University. The document requests that “students found responsible of violating Augsburg University’s sexual misconduct policy will be expelled from the University and banned from campus…”
As of yet, there has been no word whether or not Augsburg’s policy will change.
This article first appeared in the Friday, March 23, 2018, Edition of The Echo.