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Print Editions Thursday September 28th, 2023

Campus reacts to new details in Phi Psi case

Students express concerns over University’s lack of transparency, attention to two complainants

As new details surrounding the Phi Kappa Psi case broke across campus Wednesday, many students reacted with frustration at what they perceived as the University’s lack of transparency.

Others stressed the importance of respecting the two female students who reported being served a drink containing the date-rape drug GHB at an October party held by the fraternity.

The University will not move forward with a hearing for the Phi Psi member charged in December with serving a drink spiked with GHB after hair and urine tests were deemed inconclusive, The Herald reported Wednesday.

The laboratory and toxicologist on which the University relied for the flawed hair test have both faced prior accusations of inaccurate and misleading test reporting, The Herald also reported Wednesday.

Many students expressed disillusionment with the way the University handled its campus-wide announcements about developments in the case, emphasizing the need for transparency in future cases.

“What Brown should be thinking about is when they release information and how they release it,” said Lucrezia Sanes ’17. The University should not publicize information before it is proven legitimate, she said in reference to the urine test.

Elodie Freymann ’18 characterized community-wide emails from administrators regarding the case as “extremely shady.”

On Nov. 8, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn and Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 notified the Brown community that one of the two women had tested positive for GHB. In a Jan. 19 community-wide email, Klawunn and Carey announced that Phi Psi would be sanctioned with loss of University recognition and housing for four years.

But in a Feb. 21 community-wide email announcing that the drug test was in fact inconclusive, the administrators wrote that the University had modified these sanctions to allow the fraternity to petition for recognition starting in May 2017.

Jessica Brown ’16 cast what she saw as a mishandled University communication effort as contradictory to the administration’s commitment to clarity regarding its decision-making.“The communication has been said to be very transparent, yet everybody’s very confused,” she said.

Klawunn told The Herald Tuesday evening that the University cannot discuss individual cases because of “federal guidelines,” suggesting limits on how transparent the University is legally allowed to be.

Several students also said the University’s handling of the case demonstrates a lack of concern for the complainants, noting that the administration seems more concentrated on public relations than on the two women.

“It’s really showing that there’s not so much of a focus on those girls, but more on the relationship between Brown and the public, Brown and Phi Psi, Phi Psi and the public,” Brown said. “It makes it a lot harder for (the complainants) to reach out” to the University for support, she added.

Sam Jones ’18 said that “outsiders have the luxury” of viewing sexual misconduct cases and critiquing University decisions from a distance, while the two women’s daily lives are directly affected.

Some spoke out against the University’s decision not to hold a hearing for the fraternity member.

“This is an obstruction of justice,” said Jacinta Lomba ’17.

Ezra Kagan ’17 said, “The priority has to be doing whatever makes women and survivors of sexual assault feel safe on this campus … even if that means erring on the side of heavy punishment.”

Looking ahead, many predicted students will organize in opposition to the University’s handling of the case. “This is not what we stand for, at least as a student community,” Lomba said. If the University wants the support of its students, “then something needs to happen.”

Emily Schell ’16, the founder of Stand Up! Brown, an organization working to prevent sexual assault on campus, said she expects “direct action” from student groups in the coming weeks. She envisions the action taking shape as a grassroots movement, with sexual assault prevention organizations fueling the engine for more widespread student efforts.

It is important “to get members of the student body that are not normally involved in these conversations involved,” Schell said. High engagement would signal to the University that the entire campus takes sexual assault very seriously, she added.


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