Wednesday night University of Memphis President M. David Rudd along with other campus leadership, including Kenneth Anderson, the director of the Office of Institutional Equity and U of M Title IX coordinator, addressed the UC Theatre about issues related to sexual assault and sexual harassment on college campuses. These are some of the questions and statements posed by students and the responses that U of M leadership gave.
Student: Title IX states that schools may not retaliate against someone filing a complaint and must keep a complainant victim safe from other retaliation and harassment or behavior. I was just curious to what the extent of that is. Does that include the student body? Does that include just the fraternity or just the rapist? How far does that stretch?
Rudd: I would encourage let’s be sure to say accused, alleged. I think that it’s only fair that we do that. We have responsibilities across the entire student population. I think that in these cases … we have a number of interim measures that we take and again it depends on what evidence is available as to whether or not we pursue suspension along those lines.
Anderson: I would just say first that the expectation is with Title IX that it produces gender equity. So what we’re looking for is an opportunity to provide process that’s fair and impartial for both. We are not prejudging these cases. We are not acting in any way that the expectation that someone is presumed guilty or presumed innocent and the reality is that this may sound dull and this might be my many years training as a lawyer, but we follow the facts and the evidence and because we are prohibited from speaking on matters we’re in a very difficult position in the court of public opinion because we’ll lose every time because we can’t talk about what we know.
We cannot divulge anything because it’s imperative to the university that we protect the privacy of all of our students and when students choose to speak they are more than welcome to, but we can’t divulge and Title IX requires us to, as much as possible, walk the line in the middle.
Rudd: And I want you to hear, we know how hollow that rings sometimes but those are the constraints that we face as a university.
We are dedicated to pursuing these cases, but we have to pursue them within the guidelines of the law, and we can’t speak publicly about the cases and explain our rationale - explain the evidence that we have or the evidence that we don’t have. Those are the constraints that we face and we know that makes it difficult, but we pursue them with vigor and we pursue them every one of them.
I’ve been adamant about criminal prosecution in these cases, so we’re doing absolutely everything we can. As you know this is not a complex issue. It is a difficult and painful issue and we know how painful it is.
Student: If a student name-drops a victim's name on a social media platform, is that not by Title IX harassment and endanger of a student?
Rudd: I’d have to look at the specific case to know that it is harassment. There’s a legal definition of harassment.
Anderson: I would actually say if either student’s name is produced in the public it’s problematic because it 1. undermines the integrity of the investigation and 2. It puts both of those students at risk.
Rudd: And I’m going to respond and tell you something, I’m going to speak not about a case, but about an article. I said the article in The Helmsman was irresponsible and I’m going to say it again. This is exactly why I said it, because it jeopardizes the process, it jeopardizes fairness, it jeopardizes the ability to prosecute and convict, it jeopardizes all of that. That’s why I said that. That’s why I’m going to repeat it.
Student: I’m scared to be on this campus because of how slowly and how I know, you can’t do anything because of individual cases, but I personally am afraid of a group of people on this campus and I don’t know how long I’m supposed to wait and how long I’m supposed to sit here and be scared and wait for an answer to be given to us, because we’re having a lot of panels and discussion and I know that’s great and that’s what we need to do. But I’m still scared when I leave and I don’t feel safe when I leave and I don’t feel like anything’s being done about that.
Rudd: I am sorry that you feel that way and I am sorry that that is the experience that you are having. We are dedicated to helping you feel safe and what I would encourage you to do is, I would encourage you to talk to Dr.Lawhead. If you need to come talk with me, I’ll sit down and talk with you and respond to your concerns. We are pursuing every one of these.
We have to have evidence and when we have that we respond. We can’t share all of that with you, so we’re not able to share our response in these cases with you because of the guidelines of confidentiality in these cases but I can assure you we are taking every step we can possibly take legally in accordance with the evidence, but if there are things that we can put in place, I’d love to sit down and talk with you, to help you feel safer then we’d love to hear that.
Student: I’m just concerned with the discussion platform. It’s great that you're asking us what we think we should do, but I don’t have any answers. I just know how I feel, and I don’t have an answer what could happen to make me feel safer besides these these things going away and being taken off campus. So right now I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done besides moving this faster.
Rudd: I hear you. I absolutely hear you, but you might be surprised if we sit down and talk with you, there may be some things that we discover would be helpful. I wish that I could share with you all the details of what we do, because I think that at one level that could be helpful so you could know all of the steps this university takes, but we’re not allowed to do that and I do think that is a tragedy of this process …
That’s one of the tragic outcomes of this process is that we don’t have the capacity to do that, but we can sit and talk with you in some depth about things we do on campus to try to address that problem and again this is a national problem.
It’s been around since I was in school. This is a problem that was prevalent when I was in school, it’s been a part of the tragic reality on campuses and we are going to do whatever we can do to eliminate it to respond to it and to help you feel safe. So I would hope that you would talk and if you need to chat with me, you let me know.
Student: This is my third year at the University of Memphis. I have taken great pride in being a tiger however with the current situation at hand I have never been so disappointed and embarrassed. ... I have watched a beautiful, intelligent girl with a bright future turn into a terrified woman afraid to show her face in public.
We had faith the university would uphold codes of conduct, but instead were devastated when her case was drawn out for six months. Six months of intimidation by her rapists and his brothers. Six months of living in fear that someone would retaliate and hurt her. None of the rights she was promised were given to her until The Daily Helmsman bravely brought her case to light. We would still be waiting if it were not for them and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
I’m glad to see that you’ve learned from the past mistake and immediately suspended [an] alleged rapist. However it is a slap in the face to the previous victim. I believe she deserves a public apology from the administration and for … a six-month long nightmare. Nothing can make up for what has been done, but precautions can be taken to ensure that no one feels the agonizing pain that she has. I propose that a woman’s self-defense class become available at the student rec. It would benefit not only rape victims but also … the many on campus who walk around in fear.
I pray that the administration will right their wrongs.
Rudd: appreciate your comments and I think that the difficulty is again, we can’t share with you the steps we take and what we’ve done and that does concern and trouble me that we cannot.
But that’s the reality of the position that we’re in. We can’t talk in detail about how we respond to these cases - what we have done, what we haven’t done. I would encourage that in any of these cases you don’t have all of the information and that is problematic but I can tell you, we are dedicated to that. I like your idea, we’ve talked about a self-defense class and that’s been a part of I believe of the prevention task force discussion …
One, let me tell all of you how grateful I am that you're here and your speaking. It is critical and I would encourage you to continue and to help us move forward as a university, as a community and as a country this needs to be discussed, this needs to be pushed, this needs to be pursued with vigor and thoughtfulness and to force change, not just here, but nationally and I want to thank you for that.
I think that takes great courage to do that and I’m glad to see you doing it. I’m going to do everything I can to help you make that process successful. I will give you that commitment and I would encourage you that anyone that knows the details of what we have done over the last three years can tell you we are making every effort to make that happen.
It will be better with your involvement. It will be more successful with your involvement and we have talked … we want you to be fully engaged and a part of this process. We would love to be a part of the model of how you rid a campus of this problem and help other universities do exactly the same thing.
Student: What if any action has been taken against the group of students that took Daily Helmsman papers and threw them away? One, I don’t feel comfortable being on campus with thieves, and secondly I don’t feel comfortable with people on campus that would try to suppress my freedom of speech or other’s freedom of speech.
Rudd: We’ve had problems with not just newspapers being taken, but posters being taken down and other things at different times and again, we have to have evidence to respond. If you have pictures, if you send them to your dean of students. If you send them to the OIE office … If you would send them to the appropriate office, we’ll respond to it.
Student: I’m giving full disclosure, I am a survivor of rape of student-on-student rape in 2012, 2013 and a lot of the things have been brought up, but it is my individual case and therefore if you have any information you can shed light on the questions that’s fine by me.
When I presented the case of me being violently raped in the LLC from a male student to the University of Memphis my sophomore year of college it was handled with due process to which I am very thankful for, but he was then found guilty based on the evidence from other students taken and mine as well, it was given a no-contact order and nothing else, no legal aid no medical aid, no psychological aid was given to me or offered.
Therefore, after finding out he was guilty after the process had been finalized he was suspended for one semester. To which I received an email stating ‘Your rapist is on suspension for one semester. He is then given full right to return to the campus. We invite you to come back anytime’ because at that time I had left the University of Memphis in 2013 to seek healing from my family, and he was allowed back.
So I know that things could have changed and they probably have changed. I am now a returning student. I’m a junior this fall. It’s taken me four years to recover … My point is to not share a sob story because we all experience pain and my pain is no greater than anyone else’s, but if that was a problem in 2012 and 2013 and it’s a problem now, things are not getting fixed to what I can understand.
Rudd: This was a problem nationally when I was in school in the early 1980s and a part of what I’m encouraging you to do is help us pursue it and I would love to talk to you about your situation and I don’t want to do that in this context. … If you have thoughts about what we can do.
I wasn’t part of that investigation. I wasn’t here in 2012 and 2013 so if you have specific thoughts I would love to hear them. We are doing things that perhaps weren’t done. I would go back and look at what was done in that situation. I’m not familiar, but we can go back and look at it.
I would be happy to do that, and then we could talk with you about the differences perhaps in what we’re doing now versus what was done then and I would be happy to talk with you about anything else you’d want to talk about with us.
Student: I’m a graduate student, and I’ve been here for two semesters. I have more of a comment. Where I was an undergrad, they actually did not permit fraternities, and I notice that there are a few here.
I don’t know how many. I do think fraternities can be problematic, and I have a suggestion. I think that there is some kind of violation that maybe they could be suspended for a little while, even if it’s just an allegation, and I think you need to hold them accountable for the actions that go on within the fraternity itself.
I don’t know if they give money to the school or not, I really don’t understand the culture … I think it would be a good idea to hold them accountable and perhaps invite the ones that haven’t done anything yet to come in here because I notice [there’s] mostly young women here.
There are some men – and I applaud them for showing up and being our allies – but what about the young men that don’t know any better? Why aren’t … preventative measures being taken to talk to them and say “maybe we should think about this kind of behavior? It’s completely unacceptable.” Don’t just focus on the young women, focus on the young men that might be perpetrators.
Justin Lawhead (associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students): If we have evidence that certain fraternities have been involved in a situation, then we review it. So I don’t want to leave the impression that that’s not an available option.
Secondly, we’re having conversations with those men about process and choices particularly to the … procedures that were provided by their national organization. So those are continuing dialogues.
I do think there is an opportunity to have additional conversation with them about accountability and responsibility, and I’ve asked my staff that oversees those groups to begin to have those dialogues.
Darrell Ray (vice president for student affairs): One thing to add to that is that we want to be sure not to label all organizations. As with anything, people make choices and so sometimes it is not the group. Some of the people ... may be in a group, and so we want to be sure that we don’t make assumptions about fraternity men.
And that’s not to say that there are not fraternity men who don’t make bad decisions, but let’s just think about it holistically because assault it not a problem that’s limited to organizational type.
We have students who are not involved that make bad decisions, and so the goal is we have intentional ways to educate our fraternity members, our student organization members and things of that nature.
The goal is to educate the campus community so that their affiliation that they’re connected to is not the sole purpose of it. It is more about how we educate and transform the community.
Student: What are you doing currently to rid our campus from this abhorrent behavior and prevent it?
Justin Lawhead: We did multiple things this semester that we haven’t done before. First, we had a prevention taskforce that was implemented over the summer, and I’ve met with faculty, staff and students about those programs. We have a module called ‘Haven,’ which is a sexual assault awareness module.
Last year, we had about 300 students complete that. Now we have almost 1,900 students, and that continues to climb. We also haven given a bystander presentation to every ACAD course, and we’ve had 954 students respond to the value of that. We held a domestic violence summit on Sept. 15.
We have a program called ‘Tigers take a stand,’ where we used data from our climate survey to bring awareness to this issue and had students come to high-profile events, register, wear a t-shirt and share on social media some of the things that are coming from the climate survey. We have done a lot more than we had done in previous years.
Student: There are one, maybe two [Tiger patrol] carts, and when you call, you have to wait sometimes like 15 minutes. I understand cameras might catch what happen, but what about people actually being there, walking around? What about police? Tiger patrol has maybe two carts. We have a great new Memphis State University sign, but our tuition went up, so where is our money?
Rudd: Every year, we have committed more resources, and our crime rate has actually dropped.
We are pursuing this with you. If there is more we need to do with patrol and escort, we will do that. We have focused very specifically our patrol resources in areas where we have problems, and those rates have dropped dramatically because we have done that.
If we grow to three or four units, and nobody’s using those, we’re going to talk to you about putting money into a resource that is not being accessed.