Sexual assault cases bring transparency concerns

Allegheny College has had 13 informal cases and five formal cases of Title IX violations reported from August 2014 to date, according to Title IX Coordinator Katie Pope. Of the five reported, formal cases, all resulted in disciplinary action: three expulsions and two suspensions.

Pope admitted that the administration was aware of an anonymous online discussion on the app Yik Yak concerning a sexual assault case that resulted in a former student’s expulsion earlier this semester.

“We were monitoring all of this as it happened on Yik Yak a couple weeks ago,” Pope said. “I think one thing that we need to remind all of the parties…it is a confidential process and that we have a very strong stance against retaliation so any kind of harassment of either party or any witnesses is actionable offense that would put the student immediately into the conduct system.”

The only statistics available online can be found in the 2014 Annual Security Report for Allegheny, which details the number of incidences of sexual assault and whether those occurred on or off campus. The report provides numbers for the calendar years of 2011 to 2013, with 12 reported crimes of forcible sexual offenses in 2013.

There’s stuff going on on YikYak, on Facebook, people are talking, there’s all this rumor and I think the school really needs to learn how to get out ahead of that and let students know that yes, there has been an incident.

— Jesikah Leeper

In previous years, Allegheny College’s safety and security office has released emails of crimes and assaults involving students that have occurred.

“…a dark-skinned middle-aged male suspect physically assaulted a 19-year-old female Allegheny College student and stole personal property, including her wallet and cell phone,” a Sept. 14, 2013 email from the office of safety and security stated regarding an off-campus incident.

According to Jesikah Leeper, ’16, president of the Reproductive Health Coalition, this incident frustrated a number of students because the report does not state that the woman involved was also sexually assaulted.

“The one time that we did get an email about an attack…that email specifically said there was a girl who was attacked but she was raped and they left that out. There was a lot of frustration over that,” Leeper said.

While safety and security makes sure to update students on electrical outages and recurring thefts from the Wise Center, Leeper asserts that the college could provide more information concerning sexual assault.

“I definitely don’t think [the administration is] as transparent as they could be,” she said. “One thing that I’ve talked several times about with people is just the issue of students not knowing how much is going on.

“Obviously we don’t need to know names, we don’t need to know specifics of details…There’s stuff going on on YikYak, on Facebook, people are talking, there’s all this rumor and I think the school really needs to learn how to get out ahead of that and let students know that yes, there has been an incident.”

Joseph Hall, director of student conduct and development, expressed some concern regarding how much the administration could provide.

“This is more of a question, but what do the students expect to know?” he said. “We report how many sanctions we do, but we can’t report names.”

However, Sue Stuebner, Allegheny executive vice president and chief operating officer, acknowledges that there is a gap between what students deserve to know for their own safety and the confidentiality required by educational law.

“Unfortunately, there’s always going to be a tension,” she said. “How do we communicate about our process and about outcomes in a way to give people enough trust that we are taking things seriously but still protecting the rights of the individuals going through the process?

“And that’s going to be a fundamental challenge forever…I hope people can trust that we’ve got really good people working very hard on these issues. We’ll keep thinking about how we can communicate outcomes that fit within the rights.”

Three of the five formal cases were reported to the Meadville Police Department, according to Pope. A formal request for the information on those cases was submitted as of April 23, 2015. The typical waiting period to obtain access to that information can be up to five business days after legal counsel may be consulted. The chief of police was also unavailable for comment as of April 23.

Despite the increased discussion on education and prevention, Leeper believes that the discussion needs to involve the number of cases the college sees with the administration providing updates of a more transparent nature.

“I think it’s much, much more prevalent than anybody thinks it is, including the people like myself who work on this topic,” Leeper said. “I know I find myself very often being like, ‘Allegheny is not that bad,’ and yet…I don’t think I have enough fingers to count how many people I know who have been in some sort of instance. I might not be personal friends with them, but I know of it happening, and I think we get in this trap because we don’t talk about it a lot.”