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Brandeis under investigation for Title IX violations; students respond through various forms of protest

Published: September 11, 2014
Section: Front Page, News

Brandeis came under scrutiny last week as The Boston Globe reported that the U.S. Department of Education filed a federal investigation regarding the university’s handling of a sexual assault complaint. The case, which has now received national attention from The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, has stirred a controversial debate on whether or not the school handled the response to the complaint correctly. The investigation was prompted by the accused student, who filed a complaint with the university for noncompliance with Title IX saying that the school “wrongly and unfairly found him responsible for sexual misconduct,” according to The Boston Globe article last week.

“Honestly, I’m not that surprised,” said Sam Daniels ’16, in regards to the investigation. “Campus safety is not being prioritized as much as it should be.”

Four days after The Boston Globe article was published, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel posted a statement about the investigation on the university website to clarify the recent reports in the media.

“The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education (OCR) has notified us that Brandeis is being investigated for alleged violations of Title IX,” Flagel stated. “While the investigation is by no means welcome news, it is not unexpected, and Brandeis joins over 75 colleges and universities experiencing these reviews. We will in every way cooperate fully with the OCR.”

Flagel also wrote in a separate email to The Hoot that Brandeis had already taken steps to address these issues even before the OCR was engaged “including shifting to a preponderance of evidence standard, creating the sexual assault services and prevention specialist position, establishing new websites and guides and changing our conduct process to create a Special Examiners Process for sexual misconduct cases, just to name a few,” Flagel wrote.

But Daniels, a member of Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence (BSASV), is concerned about some of these new initiatives that have been put into place.

“If you look at submissions posted on SpeakOut!, our anonymous online forum, some students have had horrifying experiences at Mailman,” Daniels said about the on-campus Psychological Counseling Center. “I’ve heard wonderful things about our new specialist in trauma and sexual violence, but students need to regain their trust at that place.”

Daniels also believes it is important for the school to provide more communication between the administration and the student body.

“When it comes down to a case about student rights and about our university being under federal investigation, the community should receive an email to tell us what’s going on,” Daniels said. “They should clarify what the Title IX violations are because social media can often take things out of hand.”

Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions. The law states “no person in the United States shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” But in the last decade or so, Title IX has established a stronger focus for ensuring that schools take immediate action to guarantee that a complainant-victim can continue his or her education free of sexual assault and sexual harassment. In addition to issuing a no-contact order to the accused, a school is obligated to ensure that there are reasonable changes made to housing, class schedules, campus jobs or extracurricular activities. Any of these arrangements can occur before the formal complaint is filed, or even during an investigation, a hearing or after a final decision is made regarding the complaint.

Joe Babeu ’15, the reported victim in the case, says he is still conversing with administrators regarding his safety on campus.

“It doesn’t make sense that my attacker can come into my quad whenever he wants, but I am not allowed to go into my attacker’s quad,” said Babeu. “I still feel very frustrated.”

Students at Brandeis have been responding to the investigation all week through various forms of protest.

This past Saturday, an anonymous group of students placed a mattress on the Justice Louis D. Brandeis statue to show support for sexual assault survivors. The protest art was a replication of an act started by Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz, who reported a sexual assault incident the first day of her sophomore year in her dorm room. As part of her senior thesis titled “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight,” Sulkowicz has decided to carry her mattress with every day until her alleged rapist no longer attends Columbia.

Babeu also began two initiatives this week via social media to help raise awareness to the cause.

The first is a photo he shared with his Facebook friends on Monday. The picture is Babeu standing alone with a poster board held by a string around his neck with a statement.

“Fred Lawrence et. al, sexual assault happens here,” Babeu wrote. “It happened to me.”

The rest of the poster board is covered with quotes of statements that classmates and administrators have made to Joe that range from “Men can’t be sexually assaulted” to “You shouldn’t feel upset—worse things could have happened to you.”

Babeu said he hopes to wear the poster board every day for the rest of the school year.

“It’s a physical manifestation of the shaming I’ve experienced,” Babeu said. “I’m holding up a mirror to the Brandeis community.”

Babeu also initiated an event created on Facebook earlier this week called “Taking Back the Light.” The event took place the evening of Sept. 10 at the Rose Art Museum, during the formal dedication of the “Light of Reason” opening ceremony. More than 50 students stood next to the stage in protest, wearing all black with tape over their mouths. Many of them were carrying posters with various sayings, including “I was raped,” “I was abused,” and “Shed light on the truth of sexual assault.”

President Fred Lawrence acknowledged the protesters in his speech. He remarked that he did not want them to feel that sexual assault was not a concern to the administration.

Flagel also confirmed President Lawrence’s support for groups on campus working toward combating sexual violence.

“President Lawrence has long demonstrated his commitment to combating sexual violence, both on campus and in his role as a hate crimes prosecutor and scholar,” Flagel wrote. “Our initiatives are only possible with his direct support.”

Lawrence also issued a written response to the protestors. This response, sent to The Hoot, has been published in this issue.

In an effort to gain the support of friends and classmates, Babeu has used social media as a platform to raise awareness to his case, but also to the cause of many others who may not have the courage to speak out.

“Most survivors suffer in silence,” Babeu said. “My story is only one of many.”