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In Case You Missed It

A Brown Bites Guide: The Phi Psi, GHB and Sexual Assault Cases

Online Editor
Friday, March 6, 2015
A Brown Bites Guide to the emerging details, University proceedings and campus reactions following an October party where GHB was allegedly served to two women, one of whom reported being sexually assaulted later that evening after leaving the party.


On Oct. 24, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 and Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn sent a campus-wide email detailing an incident that allegedly occurred the night of Oct. 17. Two female students reported receiving a “spiked” drink at an unregistered Phi Kappa Psi party, and one of the two reported being sexually assaulted later that night after leaving the party.

In a letter in The Herald, Phi Psi maintained its innocence and stated that the fraternity does not condone any forms of sexual violence.

When the results of a urine test came back, they seemed to indicate that one of the two girls tested positive for GHB. Phi Psi responded with another letter in The Herald, writing that none of its members spiked anything and raising questions about the validity of the lab tests.

But the University found Phi Psi responsible for a number of violations including the alleged presence of the “spiked” drink because the frat controlled beverage service at the party. The University revoked Phi Psi’s recognition and housing for four years, Carey and Klawunn wrote in a Jan. 19 community-wide email.

But the urine test that had originally been interpreted as positive was later deemed inconclusive, Carey and Klawunn wrote in a Feb. 21 email.


In their Feb. 21 email, Carey and Klawunn explained that, after the validity of the urine test was called into question, Brown hired an independent expert to review it. That toxicologist also reviewed the results of a separate hair test on the other woman, which Carey and Klawunn did not disclose in that email. Though the lab that conducted the urine test assured Brown three times that the results conclusively showed that the student had ingested GHB, the independent expert suggested that the urine test, as well as a hair test, was actually inconclusive. While the email maintained that there was more evidence against Phi Psi than just the lab results, Brown revised Phi Psi’s punishment and allowed them to petition Brown for recognition in May 2017, likely cutting a year and a half off the original sanctions.

Two days after the administrators’ email, Phi Psi began distributing flyers to the student body with a scannable barcode that directs to a letter, which was also published in the Providence Journal. The fraternity brothers urged the University for increased transparency and noted in the letter that the individual who allegedly sexually assaulted one of the two women had no affiliation with Phi Psi or any of its members. But the letter misleadingly claimed that the results of a hair test were “conclusively negative” when they were, in fact, inconclusive due to a mistake in how the test was conducted.


On March 1, Carey and Klawunn sent another email, this time providing more evidence about the case and asserting that incorrect information was being disseminated. Carey and Klawunn wrote that two lab tests had been administered: a urine test and a hair test. The urine test, which originally confirmed the presence of the date-rape drug, was found inconclusive upon subsequent investigation. The hair test was also regarded as unreliable and was never used as evidence against Phi Psi. Carey and Klawunn were adamant in the email that the inconclusiveness of the lab results does not mean the two women were not drugged. They again reported that Phi Psi’s sanctions did not result from the physical drug tests, but rather from a combination of other evidence and past history.

Meanwhile, The Herald released new information about the lab testing. The original hair test — performed by Ernest Lykissa, lab director at ExperTox Inc., in conjunction with the Carlson Company — likely had some major methodological issues. When hair is tested for the presence of a drug it should be segmented. That is, the hair must be divided into sections because as the hair grows from the scalp, one strand is essentially a timeline, with the hair closest to the follicle representing the most recent history. Each segment of the hair represents a different point in time, allowing toxicologists to look for changes in the levels of different chemicals. But if the hair is not segmented and instead results are averaged across the entire strand, it is far more difficult to detect a spike. Documents reviewed by The Herald suggest the lab did not report segmented results and instead averaged GHB levels across the entire strand. What’s more, prior media coverage has called the legitimacy of the Carlson Company’s and Lykissa’s past work into question, as both have been accused of providing inaccurate and misleading test information prior to working with the University.

“I agreed to get the hair test because I was told it would aid my case even though it was an incredibly difficult experience having a large quantity of my hair removed,” the complainant wrote. “It seems extraordinarily unfair to have to forego more of my hair because of mistakes committed by the University.”


The University dropped charges against the student accused of serving the drink containing GHB due to a lack of physical evidence. Though The Herald found no documents detailing specific ways in which the accused student received preferential treatment, several individuals familiar with the case have suggested that the accused student’s family connections — his father is a Corporation trustee and significant donor to the University — may have influenced the results. In one Feb. 7 email, the father of one of the complainants wrote: “Having a very wealthy member of the Board of Trustees as a parent of (the accused student) raises the question if my daughter can get a fair hearing at Brown.” Dropping the case on the basis of lack of physical evidence has been characterized by Katie Byron ’15, a member of the Task Force on Sexual Assault, as “inconsistent” with the handling of other cases. “In so many of these instances, there’s no evidence. There’s somebody who comes forward and discloses an experience, and for the most part, that person’s testimony is enough to warrant a hearing,” she said.

The University also found the student accused of sexual assault not responsible based on the argument that the complainant’s partial memory prevents her from adequately countering the accused student’s testimony that she consented. Deputy Provost Joseph Meisel, who served as appeal officer for the case, wrote to the complainant that, “The question is whether the visible presentation of your stumbling could or should have led (the alleged assailant) to infer that … your level of intoxication was past the point at which it would have been reasonable to assume you were capable of giving consent.” Two undergrads who serve on the Task Force on Sexual Assault expressed dismay with the student conduct board’s reasoning. Byron called it “an atrocious Catch-22,” and Justice Gaines ’16 said “the fact that only the accused’s memory is taken into account because the victim doesn’t have a memory is horrifying.”

“My daughter has been involved in this process for over four months. This is a process that should have taken 60 days,” he wrote. “Having a very wealthy member of the Board of Trustees as a parent of (the accused student) raises the question if my daughter can get a fair hearing at Brown.”


The turn of events has raised an uproar on campus. While some students remain confused by the sequence of events, others have been protesting. Still more have taken to social media to express their outrage, calling for institutional change using the hashtags #MoneyTalksAtBrown and #GHBGetOutOfRapeFree.

The protesters held slips of paper reading, “We are protesting the mishandling of cases of sexual violence on college campuses. We especially hope to draw attention to the way influence and money obstructed justice for the two women who were given date rape drugs at Brown. #MoneyTalksAtBrown.”

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  1. Concerned alum says:

    The student has been exonerated. The facts don’t support allegations that there were spiked drinks served at a frat party. That should be the end of the story. For once, try being responsible journalists. Stop encouraging a mob mentality at my alma mater

    • Ancient Alumnus says:

      Are you a friend of the accused or just a captious idiot? The male student hasn’t been exonerated, not according to the three dictionaries at my left elbow (one of which my wife co-edited). His accuser, a Brown undergraduate female, for whom you really ought to feel sympathy (go on, give it a try), was handed a GNB-poisoned drink and then raped. Of that there can be little doubt. During her examination by medicos, she described an intoxication the peculiarities of which precisely match those of GBH ingestion, according to the statements of two expert consultants in GBH toxicity. In other words, something bad (but not infrequent in Wriston Quadrangle) happened to that woman — rape drug with rape ensuing. Impoverished and shabby Brown University faced its ancient problem. How to kill the case and keep the cash-flow (Pfizer, Martin Keller, Corporation Dad). In this corner, the believable, distressed, and wholly sympathetic female student who is (alas) not rich as Croesus. In the other corner, her accused poisoner and rapist who is (ahem) the son of a thrice-yearly visitor to the Corporation Room. Who you gonna call? Why, the well-oiled Emergency Response Team — Ledbetter, Klawunn, and Company — veterans of many a campaign since the Martin Keller federal case. First assignment: Compromise the evidence. Hire a sketchy, previously discredited testing laboratory, in fact an industry laughing-stock. That was the hard part. Lying and dissembling was the easy part — easy from long practice in University Hall. The corpus of evidence supporting the young woman’s case was dismissed with, as the BDH article rightly reports, a risible “catch-22” — because she was drugged into insensible helplessness IN ORDER to be raped, she cannot BEAR WITNESS to the rape. Incidentally, by issuing that verdict, the University automatically slanders the woman. (Will some good lawyer please, please step forward here and pull a McCormick — Brown ended up paying him a million dollars.). This whole episode is further proof, if you needed it, that Brown University is the fake Ivy, the one not invited to the 1936 convention of seven newspaper editorial boards that made the original selection of membership (my father was there representing Dartmouth), the doormat and beggar of the Ivy League.

      • More Recent Alumnus says:

        Amazingly, not one of your accusations regarding the night in question has been proven, or even has hard evidence ego support it. The physical evidence associated with the case does not point towards GHB (use your dictionary that you claim to have at your elbow) being placed in the drink. In addition, whether any of us like it or not, there is no absolute proof of a rape though clearly there is a large question mark on that one. And, genius, the accused drugger is NOT the accused rapist. Did this absolute fact escape you despite the dozens of times this has been documented in the media?

        I had two friends raped, from what I understand and was told by them, during my days in college. But that does not mean I get to accuse others of this or of date rape drugging when the evidence does not support it, particularly not the latter. I assume your dictionary has the word libel in it, too.

        As for your Ivy League formation story, so what? Firstly, since when did school newspaper editors start the conference? They merely had an idea. And it was nearly two decades later when the Ivy League actually was officially formed, with Brown in it. Was your father there, too?

        I truly hope you are not an alumnus of Brown. You need to go to a doctor to get that chip on your shoulder checked out.

  2. Greek Alum says:

    “But the University found Phi Psi responsible for a number of violations including the alleged presence of the “spiked” drink because the frat controlled beverage service at the party.”

    Was a member of the fraternity hand feeding the woman her drink the whole night? Did the woman immediately chug the whole drink before stepping away from the bar? If not, then once the drink was served Phi Psi no longer maintained control of her beverage. Why the university and so many people have dialed in on the Phi Psi brother’s potential role in this is mind boggling. Why is no one looking at the rapist* as the source of the GHB?

    *not according to Brown

  3. TL;DR: Rape Hysteria Culture falsely accuses men again. No one apologizes. The end.

  4. Still Blind and Disappointing Journalism, especially after Rolling Stone UVA avoidance of evidence.

    One glass of drink was served to two women than both drank from same cup.
    One young woman was tested for no GHB and the other young woman was WRONGFULLY described initially as containing or positive for GHB, rather it should have been reported as Un-ELEVATED, or in line with normal GHB. The test procedures were not best practices, but the results are NEGATIVE as to any abnormal GHB presence in her body.

    Now take into consideration the other lady drank from the same cup and had no GHB.

    No Phi Psi member is involved with what happened after the cup left his hands at the bar counter.

    The men were non-Phi Psi’s and have not been described as it would be a huge liability similar to Duke Lacrosse as in specifically identifying someone and damaging them when in fact, there is NO facts to substantiate a drugging, nor a sexual assault.

    Brown made that clear, and now reporters may attempt to redefine rules of evidence, but that will not be allowed in the courts, only int he liberal press.

    We all feel horrible for the young lady, and these are difficult lessons to learn for all parties.

    But there are civil rights that were violated, sloppy best practices for testing that will no doubt always be disputed, but Money has zero influence in these cases that involve health and safety of our children and students.

    The students knew they were innocent and that is WHY they went through extra efforts to get more details of the tests.

    Many issues because there is a range while we are young and make mistakes.

    Regrettable sex, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct can all fall under bad choices to a HR issue with anyone or any company and yes, a campus. It doesn’t have to fall into the definition advocates seek, sexual assault & rape.

    And on the latter criminal offenses, America, the courts, and now students even if they need guidance from a parent ( which certainly you would seek or encourage ), will NOT allow a LOWER standard of rules of evidence, due process, and civil rights which is exactly what angry advocacy groups seek, the Feds, and the Dept of Edu seek. They will not prevail although there will be small wins that are mistakes.

    A final thought is Univ seek no attorneys in cases below sexual assault so these can be teachable lessons about safety and stupidity.

    When the attorneys attend, the rule of law prevails as it did in this case, but ONLY because the hearing was unfair.

    Phi Psi got their housing and beds taken away for serving a clean drink with NO drugs, period. Not one test showed elevated or above norm GHB. Period.

    Another fraternity the same weekend kept their house and received 1.5 years, the standard suspension for not following best practices of 3rd party services of alcohol.

    Phi Psi is STILL treated unfairly and used as an excuse to go dry for Brown.

    GO dry if you seek to go dry, but don’t wrongfully accuse students of a crime..

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