Columns

Dorris ’15: A perilous precedent

By
Guest Columnist
Thursday, April 24, 2014

The summer after her first semester as a transfer student, Lena Sclove ’15.5 was allegedly choked twice and raped by a fellow Brown student. Two weeks later, she reported the incident to the Office of Student Life. In October, he was found responsible for four separate offenses under the Brown University Code of Student Conduct — possession of illegal drugs, non-consensual sexual misconduct, physical harm to other students and sexual conduct including penetration. The university imposed a single sanction: suspension for one year.

While her alleged rapist took classes until Thanksgiving, Lena took a reduced course load so she had time to go to exhaustive meetings with administrators. Often encountering the alleged rapist between classes, she was forced to move into a one-bedroom apartment off campus. Months later, the University received a letter from another woman who was allegedly assaulted by the same student.

“Brown University takes issues of sexual assault and sexual misconduct with the utmost seriousness,” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

We are all asking the same question. How seriously does our university actually take sexual assault if next semester the student who allegedly assaulted two students will return to campus? In September 2014, Lena Sclove and her alleged rapist will both return to Providence. They will attend Brown simultaneously for the next two years.

How could this have happened?

First of all, this is not an isolated incident. As evident by the 1996 Adam Lack case, Brown, like most universities, has a terrible history dealing with rape cases internally, a crime more violent and serious than most others. Like at most elite universities, few students are ever expelled.

During a press conference, Lena said, she was “encouraged that reporting to the University is much safer than going to the police and pursuing a criminal case,” The Herald reported.

But Brown made Lena feel everything but safe.

Lena, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, saw her alleged rapist everywhere — in the dining hall, the library and the campus center. Allen Ward, senior associate dean for student life, imposed no separation or probationary period. When her alleged rapist finally left campus, she wasn’t notified until a week later.

“In cases where a crime may have been committed, the reporting student is counseled about criminal justice options and may be encouraged to file a criminal complaint,” Quinn wrote to The Herald. But Lena didn’t file a police report until months later, and at that point she realized she had suffered a cervical spine injury from being choked. She couldn’t walk for two months and was forced to take medical leave.

I wonder if the University actually encouraged the filing of a police report. I wonder why an alleged rapist was allowed to take classes until Thanksgiving, even though he was suspended. More than that, I seriously question if Brown cared at all about protecting Lena Sclove, or if it was more concerned with protecting its own public image.

In January, President Obama announced the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. According to a report by the White House Council on Women and Girls, an estimated one in five women are sexually assaulted in college.

Last semester, when Lena’s appeal of the sanction was denied, she received a letter from Margaret Klawunn, interim dean of the College and vice president for campus life and student services, claiming that the “precedent of similar cases needed consideration.” Sexual assault on college campuses is a widespread problem. If anything will ever change for young women in this country, Brown cannot use the precedent of past cases in its disciplinary process. Anyone found responsible for sexual assault should be expelled.

If this is not possible, if the University’s disciplinary process is ill-equipped to deal with sexual assault internally, then it should base its decisions off criminal court decisions, where the consequences for rape would be much more severe. After all, no one is asking Brown to assume legal liabilities, to give out prison sentences. That power under the law is not within Brown’s jurisdiction, nor should it be. However, determining who is allowed to be a Brown student is within Brown’s legal jurisdiction. And Lena’s alleged rapist will return to campus next year.

Meanwhile, Lena has nowhere else to go. She has already missed a semester of classes. This type of halfway justice — allowing an alleged rapist to attend Brown at the same time as a victim — shows that Brown does not take sexual assault or the protection of its students seriously.

On April 22, Lena Sclove returned to Brown to share her experiences as a college rape victim. After she spoke to 50 students, she went to the library to go to the bathroom. However, because of the University’s medical leave policy, she couldn’t even swipe her ID card to go inside.

On Aug. 2, Lena Sclove was allegedly raped. Now, nine months later, the process of victimization is not over. She is just as suspended as her assailant.

 

Cara Dorris ’15 can be reached at cara_dorris@brown.edu.

 

A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that President Obama announced the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault last January. In fact, it was this January. The Herald regrets the error.

  • vicious little whack-a-mole

    fantastic piece. thank you so much for writing this.

    my only potential disagreement is with:
    “If this is not possible, if the University’s disciplinary process is ill-equipped to deal with sexual assault internally, then it should base its decisions off criminal court decisions, where the consequences for rape would be much more severe.”

    if i understand this correctly, you’re saying that we might want to circumvent brown’s internal review process completely in cases of sexual assault. (if you actually mean that we should require a legal decision to expel someone, but brown has the discretion to decide whether they remain on campus absent a court decision based on in-house investigations, you can ignore most of what i say next.)

    i think there are important reasons brown needs an internal process separate from the legal system (which btw i totally agree that brown should encourage students to utilize). like you said, brown can’t lock anyone up but they do get to decide who gets to stay on campus, using their best judgment about how to keep students as safe as possible (see also: their admittedly flawed — but only in practice — discretion in removing students struggling with mental illness). so the standards should be common sense ones (‘preponderance of evidence’) as opposed to the rigid proof needed in the court of law, where someone’s personal liberty is at stake. secondly, an internal system is capable of handling matters much more quickly (and probably quietly) than the screwed up legal system. the process of going through the courts is likely to be arduous and emotionally taxing. also, a student might not want to press charges against their assaulter, for any number of reasons; they might just want them gone.

    so i think we need a trustworthy internal system to keep students safe (while of course doing its best to avoid bogus false positive like the hopefully anomalous lack case… but that almost seems inappropriate to mention in this context). if we can’t trust brown to do a good job, idk, i guess we’re screwed.

  • anon

    cara dorris is one of the few good ones.

    let’s not forget about Margaret Klawunn’s tone-deaf characterization of a student being choked while she was raped as “concern about [the rapist’s] hand on your neck”. this university’s social justice is a sham.

    • Kawma Butz

      Margarett Klawunn cannot call a spade a spade. She is not genuine. She has no business being a teacher or a parent. Shame on her.

    • Running Bear

      Margarett Klawunn cannot call a spade a spade. She will do anything first to cover her own butt. She is not fit to be a parent or a teacher. Shame on her.

  • just say no to foot fungus

    This is an awesome article, Dorris. Good job. I agree with you on most points, other than Brown’s internal disciplinary process, which seems too arbitrary and inconsistent to make decisions that will personally affect both of the lives involved. Having met with a lot of Brown’s deans at my time there, I wouldn’t trust some of those loopy people to choose what I eat for lunch, let alone decide either end of the spectrum- whether someone is ‘guilty’ of rape or not.

    people say that attending a university is a privilege, not a right, and this is true- but labeling someone a rapist (which they do, as this case proves, regardless of whether he has been found legally guilty or not) is far too big a deal to have any sort of arbitrary process, which is exactly what a “preponderance of evidence” is. Who is to say exactly what that means? Again, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with virtually any dean I have ever met deciding that. They are all loopy. the only semi normal one was Bergeron, and she’s not even here anymore. On the flip side, overly cautious administrations like this one seem too hesitant to punish this boy more seriously.
    The best thing to do would be to strongly, STRONGLY push rape cases to courts and then conduct a shorter disciplinary Brown hearing afterward. It may take a lot of effort on both student’s parts- but maybe thats just what it takes to get even a little more of the truth on the table. You don’t want Lena walking around campus someone who she says raped her- but you also don’t want someone who could very well be innocent (there are quite a few of them, not just Lack, google Brown sexual assault cases and see) stigmatized as a rapist for the remainder of their life. This is a serious offense that merits a lot of time, investigation, and strict procedure to make the most correct decision possible.

  • EdithTW

    This article makes for sensational press, but there is ZERO evidence that anything Lena recounts actually happened. The accused young man has been tried and convicted on the Internet without a shred of evidence. Lena had made certain that no evidence is available. No bruises, no evidence of neck injury, no witnesses, no weapon, no police report. Just her sensational story that has gotten her into the limelight as an “activist”. It’s all just too convenient.

    Meanwhile, I understand that he had at least two witnesses who were prepared to testify at the Brown hearing on his behalf – they were barred by legal technicality.

    Lena got what she supposedly wanted from the start – he is not returning to campus. What more does she now want? Given the limelight that Lena has come to enjoy, with continuing national exposure, I’m beginning to question her entire story. It’s a travesty that women who deserve support against sexual violence are going to be hurt when Lena’s story unravels. And I predict it will;