A glimpse at how sexual harassment allegations are handled at Quinnipiac
By: Sierra Goodwill
Students at Quinnipiac University may have noticed a tweet issued by the school’s verified account on Thursday morning in light of sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser, testified on Sept. 27, which propelled Quinnipiac to be proactive and send a message to the university community.
“Although we want students to be engaged and informed citizens, we understand the topics discussed can be triggering for survivors of sexual assault,” part of the tweet read.
The university went on to provide contact information for counseling services on campus
With the immense amount of reports and coverage of sexual harassment as of late, Megan Buda, Quinnipiac’s Director of Student Conduct, believes it’s important to outline the school’s process of dealing with sexual harassment allegations brought forward by students.
“Any employee at the university, minus the clergy, the counseling center or the health center staff, has the responsibility to report up if anyone reports any violation of the Title IX policy on campus,” Buda said.
Once an incident has been reported, the process outlined below ensues.
The entire process is supposed to take up to 60 days. However, Buda admits that sometimes it can be longer due to lack of information or other factors.
She notes that the length of the process is one reason why students are more hesitant to come forward.
“What I have seen, especially in the spring semester last year, is complainants coming forward and saying ‘I don’t want a formal process, I just don’t want the same thing to happen to someone else,’” Buda said. “The most common request I received last semester was, ‘Can you just keep a name of someone who’s doing things we don’t like?’ No, we can’t just keep a running list, but there are certain matters we can handle informally with an informal resolution.”
That informal resolution can include, but isn’t limited to, no contact orders and/or relocation of housing assignments.
Resident assistants are also mandated reporters, meaning they are required to report any Title IX violation they are aware of. Senior Vanessa Harris, who has been an RA for two years, has had to utilize this system more than once.
“As an RA for freshman, unfortunately I had a lot of sexual assault related issues with my residents,” Harris said. “There were two of them who actually came to me and said ‘this happened to me.’ But in other instances, because they know that I’m a mandated reporter and that I will tell, they’ll say “hypothetically, if this happened…” And it’s obvious that it did happen. But with that, there’s nothing you can do.”
Once the RA passes along the information to his or her direct boss, they are no longer given any information about the investigation in order to keep the situation as private as possible.
“It can be challenging for us because unless our resident tells us, it’s like you tell the RhD then you go back to your room and that’s it,” Harris said.
This has an enormous effect on Harris, since she decided to become an RA in hopes of assisting the Quinnipiac community and helping her residents cope with any issues they may have. She didn’t realize just how many issues she’d come across.
“Before I was an RA, I looked at Quinnipiac and didn’t really think that anything was happening on campus,” she said. “Then as an RA, it’s like wow, there’s a lot that’s happening on campus that we aren’t notified about because we are a private university. It changed my outlook on everything, really.
However, Harris greatly values the fact that her residents trust her enough to tell her about something as serious as sexual assault or harassment allegations.
“I realize how challenging it is for them to come forward and why a lot of them don’t want to,” she said. “They’re ridiculed in the media, like Dr. Ford is right now, and that’s just not something you want to sit around a table and chat about all night. Overall, it’s been rewarding because I know I was able to do my job and I’m thankful I can help them.”
When coming forward with a Title IX related concern, Quinnipiac also gives students the opportunity to report the incident to the Hamden Police Department, but it is not required. Buda notes that the way the university conducts the investigation can be quite different than the way the police do.
“The police have a different threshold than we do,” she said. “It may take them longer to do an investigation than it may take us to do an investigation. But, we’re able to provide different accommodations that the police may not be able to. Likewise, we have a lower threshold to hold someone responsible because we don’t call them guilty since it’s not a court of law.”
Buda said she doesn’t think the number of sexual harassment cases at Quinnipiac are any higher than the national average. There were two formally reported rapes on campus in 2016, four in 2015 and five in 2014.
These numbers do not include informal reports and/or other Title IX and sexual harassment cases other than the act of rape.
Harris knows that statistics aren’t always an accurate representation of how many students have actually experienced sexual harassment because it is not an easy thing to tell someone about.
“It can be really challenging because a lot of the times, as a victim of sexual assault you don’t want to relive that situation,” Harris said. “You don’t really want to rehash who and where and why and how.”
However, Harris says she hopes that the recent #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements inspire women to feel more comfortable and empowered to report any incident they may have endured.
Quinnipiac encourages any member of the university community who is struggling to cope with the after effects of sexual assault, harassment, abuse or any other crisis, to utilize any of the resources listed below.
Graphics by Taylor Giangregorio