College Of Holy Cross Responds To Campus Assault

NPR's investigative team has been working with reporters at the Center for Public Integrity on a sensitive topic: sexual assaults on college campuses. The investigation shows that campus discipline systems rarely expel men who are found responsible for a sexual assault. Today, Tell Me More focuses on an exception to that norm: the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., which expelled a young student for sexual assault. Host Michel Martin discusses the case, and the larger issue of campus sexual assault, with Paul Irish, dean of student conduct and community standards at the College of Holy Cross, and Kristen Lombardi, a staff writer at the Center for Public Integrity who has reported extensively on this topic.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

Im Lynn Neary and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, In Your Ear, with the music group Los Amigos Invisibles. But first, for the last few weeks, NPRs investigative team has worked with reporters at the Center for Public Integrity, or CPI, on a sensitive topic: sexual assaults on college campuses. The center interviewed 33 students who reported having been sexually assaulted by another student. Only four alleged attackers were expelled and two of those after multiple acquisitions of sexual misconduct. But one campus that is taking a different approach is the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

There, a young sexual assault victim did find a measure of justice when the school expelled her attacker. And I want to mention that this story might not be appropriate for some because the discussion does involve some explicit details.

Host Michel Martin recorded this conversation last week and she was joined by Paul Irish, the dean of student conduct and community standards at the College of the Holy Cross; and Kristen Lombardi, a staff writer at the Center for Public Integrity. She reported a series of stories on this topic. Lombardi talked about how the CPI gathered data for this investigative series.

Ms. KRISTEN LOMBARDI (Staff Writer, Center for Public Integrity): We got our hands on the only database on sexual assault proceedings at institutions of higher education, nationwide. And it shows that schools rarely expel students who are found responsible for sexual assaults. Much more common were seemingly modest penalties, such as reprimands, counseling, community service, suspensions. The data also included other restrictions in our interviews with administrators. They told us that would typically be educational penalties, like required alcohol treatment.

MICHEL MARTIN: One of the exceptions to the pattern that you found, was that of a girl named - how do we pronounce it - Melandy?

Ms. LOMBARDI: Its Melandy, actually.

MARTIN: Melandy, Melandy. And she was a student of the College of the Holy Cross. And would you just give us, as briefly as you can, just tell us about her circumstances?

Ms. LOMBARDI: Melandy had accused a friend raping her in a public bathroom in an academic building on campus on the last night of her spring semester, freshmen year, in May 2007. Melandy had been drinking that night, she says, for the first time, and she was inebriated. Her alleged attacker was also drinking. They were both at a party. They had been hanging out together with friends. You know, she says her alleged attacker lured her to this public bathroom and assaulted her.

And she was incapable and unaware of resisting. And he says that she was a willing participant and had consensual sex. There was no physical evidence. There was no corroborating eye witnesses of the alleged assault itself. It was a very difficult case to determine the truth. And we heard, repeatedly, from college administrators, these kinds of he said-she said cases are very, very difficult for them to adjudicate.

MARTIN: But in this case, the person who she accused was expelled. And so...

Ms. LOMBARDI: Yes, he was found responsible.

MARTIN: I want to Dean Irish at this point. Im going to ask, what is the policy regarding sexual assault at the college? Why was this student expelled under that policy?

Mr. PAUL IRISH (Dean of Student Conduct and Community Standards, College of the Holy Cross): We have a very detailed descriptive policy in place and these cases really hinge on two key items that we talk about from the time students come, in orientation, to the training of our boards - around incapacitation through alcohol. And if somebody is incapacitated, they cannot give consent to engage in sexual activity. Its very clear in our handbook and throughout the information that we provide to students. And prior to my arrival in Holy Cross in 2004, a lot of work had been done on really a descriptive types of examples of what could be considered sexual assault.

MARTIN: Was this policy in place when this incident occurred?

Mr. IRISH: Yes.

MARTIN: So, both parties had reason to know what the rules were.

Mr. IRISH: Absolutely, absolutely.

MARTIN: Right?

Mr. IRISH: And I think, you know, the young woman in this situation, spoke to, you know, the clarity of the policy as something that was helpful for her. And she is revealing it and trying to weigh her options of whether she wanted to enter into a very unpleasant judicial proceeding. The language was there for her to look at and say, well, you know, I was incapacitated and I didnt give consent. And I think that was helpful for her.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Were talking about reporting, spearheaded by the Center for Public Integrity, that found that the rate of sexual assault on college campuses is high. But even more importantly, that men - or young men - who are found responsible for committing an act are rarely punished in any significant way. And were talking about this with Kristen Lombardi who is a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity. Were also talking with Paul Irish from the College of the Holy Cross. And were talking about a specific case. It was an exception to this pattern where a young man was expelled after he was found responsible for assaulting a young woman, a friend.

Kristen, when you met Melandy, one of the things that stood out for me from this reporting is that she waited quite sometime to report the assault. She had to know that it would've been difficult but what made her want to go forward? What was it that made her say, I really have to go forward and pursue some action here?

Ms. LOMBARDI: What really prompted Melandy, she told me, was returning to campus in the fall of 2008, and seeing her alleged attacker on campus and having to face him, not knowing when she would have to face him. Holy Cross is not a big campus. And so when she walked around on campus she could, you know, encounter him. And that is what I think prompted her to go to Holy Cross public safety officers.

MARTIN: She didnt go to law enforcement outside of the campus. She only pursued this complaint with campus public safety officers, is that correct?

Ms. LOMBARDI: Yes. And Melandy was very aware of, I guess, the challenges, you would say, to adjudicating her case. She knew she was late in reporting. She knew she didnt have forensic evidence. She knew that it would be a question of credibility. She was intimated by the criminal justice process. For those reasons, she felt like proving her case beyond a reasonable doubt would be really, really difficult. And she wanted to pursue the campus process first. She told us that she had it in her head that, you know, she would see how it goes with the campus process and perhaps pursue criminal charges. She ended up not pursing criminal charges after her proceeding.

MARTIN: Why did these cases never become a matter for the criminal justice system?

Ms. LOMBARDI: Well, that is really dependent, I think, on the student themself. The vast majority of them also went to local authorities and tried to press criminal charges. But oftentimes, local prosecutors chose not to take these cases. And they were left with campus judicial proceedings as their course of recourse.

MARTIN: So, Dean Irish, what was the process by which this case was investigated? What happens after a student or, I guess, presumably any member of the campus community comes forward with a complaint like this, what happens then?

Mr. IRISH: Sure, I think it happens before a student comes with a complaint through training our officers. Most of the officers at Holy Cross are trained sexual assault investigators so that its not just a student versus student. But in this case if a student went to public safety, we say that they drive the process - do they want it to go to the DA? Do they want it to the go the student conduct office? You know, do they want it - more time to make decision on how theyre going to proceed? So, it's really empowering, you know, the student to make those decisions along the way.

MARTIN: Kristen, I commend you because you also sought out the other side of the story, which is the student who was expelled and his name - you give him a pseudonym: Jordan?

Ms. LOMBARDI: Yes.

MARTIN: Right. So, Jordan says that he was also intoxicated and he says that this was consensual. And he, in this proceeding, he didnt have an advocate, which he would have had in criminal court. And I have to ask you Dean, do you think thats fair?

Mr. IRISH: I think it is. Because it is a student-to-student hearing with advisors that are not advocates for them hearing like you might think of as an attorney in a court of law. Its really the student asking the questions and answering them. And, you know, it, again, is not a court of law or - its a hearing to determine whether the rules at our college about sexual misconduct were broken.

MARTIN: (unintelligible) I guess, but that's part of what - I guess what Im having trouble with articulating is that theres something about this that is not the same as - this is not the same as somebody, sort of, crawling into somebodys room or breaking down their door and assaulting them that there are issues around a conduct on both parties. And I sort of wondered are women just kind walking around as like potential victims here or are they being taught anything about the way they should conduct themselves in these situations? Do you know what I mean? I mean, its like...

Mr. IRISH: Yeah, I...

MARTIN: that people (unintelligible) you're just - youre good girl or youre a bad girl. And if youre not a good girl, then anything can be done to you and nobody is supposed to say anything to the point where, you know, boys or young men are all potential predators and theyre always responsible if something bad happens. Do you know what I mean? Do you hear what I'm saying?

Mr. IRISH: Right. I think on College campuses we've focused a lot on talking to young women about, you know, partying safe and not leaving your friend alone and watching your drink and that. But I think we havent done enough with our young men to say, you know, if you get involved with a young woman and you do not know her all that well and youve been drinking, you know, this is a warning sign. This is not something that you want to engage in because of what possible consequences could be. And we know that in these situations that young men and women are not clearly communicating about, you know, what they want to engage in and whats okay in each step, you know, and that doesnt happen. And thats part of the confusion in the issue on our campuses.

MARTIN: Kristen, can I just ask you finally, did Jordan feel he had done anything wrong?

Ms. LOMBARDI: I would say no. And he was not different from any of the other students the accused students who were found responsible that we interviewed. You know, all of them still believed that they or at least they maintained to us that they had engaged in consensual sex. If they were found responsible, a lot of them believed and articulated to us that they felt that they were pressured to confess to the complaining students version of events. I cant say that we spoke with anybody who felt in hindsight that they had done anything wrong and that includes actually a student that we did interview in a Texas prison right now who had been accused of raping four Texas A&M students. And even he says that all four of those students had willingly engaged in sex, that college is about drinking and sex and a lot of drunk sex goes on and thats just the way it is. So, I think its a really interesting question actually for educators.

MARTIN: And when you confronted him with the policy that said, if, by definition, the other party is intoxicated and therefore consent cannot be given, what did he say to that?

Ms. LOMBARDI: You know, he basically believes that consent was given...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LOMBARDI: ...that is what he believes. And, you know, he mentioned that he was drinking as well and he suggested that Melandy was not too drunk to consent.

MARTIN: Is he bitter about what happened?

Ms. LOMBARDI: Well, he's very upset that he was expelled. He believes the process was unfair.

MARTIN: And how does she feel now? How does Melandy feel now?

Ms. LOMBARDI: I think Melandy would tell you that she's at peace. She is unlike all the other students that weve interviewed in the sense that she did not feel like she had to drop out. She's going to graduate in May. She told me she's ready to be somebody and, you know, her process her proceeding, you know, worked in her favor.

MARTIN: Well, youve raised some very rich and important issues with this reporting and with this series and so, Kristen, we appreciate that and Dean, we sure appreciate your taking the time to discuss this. So, I wanted to ask for a final thought. Dean, what would you like people to draw from this?

Mr. IRISH: Oh, I think this is a pervasive problem on all our campuses. Its very underreported and we really have to ask: Why is it so underreported? What can we do to make victims feel comfortable to come forward, to feel supported and to let people know that when there is an outcome, that its a very serious outcome with everlasting, you know, life-altering, you know, consequences?

MARTIN: Paul Irish is the dean of student conduct and community standards at the College of the Holy Cross, and he was kind enough to join us from Boston. Kristen Lombardi is a staff writer at the Center for Public Integrity. She joined us from our bureau in New York. And I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Ms. LOMBARDI: Thank you.

Mr. IRISH: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: To hear more of NPRs investigative series on sexual assaults on college campuses, please go to our Web site. Just go to npr.org.

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