Crime and Safety, News

Alumna sues UM for Title IX violations

A University of Miami alumna is suing the university for its “deliberate indifference” toward her being raped, stalked and physically assaulted during the first three weeks of her junior year.

The student, identified only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, said the administration failed to protect her from her assailant when he harassed and stalked her nine to 10 times between September and December 2013. Furthermore, the plaintiff said former Dean William “Tony” Lake told her she should drop the rape allegations and “feel bad” for her assailant because “he did not have many friends,” and that perhaps he had penetrated her with his fingers and not his penis and that “this was not rape.”

These and other claims fill the 21-page lawsuit filed against UM on Sept. 15 for mishandling complaints of sexual assault and harassment and for allegedly violating the plaintiff’s rights under Title IX, the amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender.

The student filing the complaint graduated from UM with a degree in microbiology and immunology in 2015 and is now a law student at the University of Houston. The alleged perpetrator is not named in the lawsuit, but the complaint states that the assailant was a Resident Assistant at Mahoney Residential College and that the two met on the Hindu Student Council and dated for a brief time before the assault.

The complaint, filed at the United States District Court in the Southern District of Florida, details how the student said she pleaded with the university to allow her to withdraw for a semester without a “W” on her transcript. When the administration did not accommodate this request, the student asked for extensions on her assignments and excused absences, according to the complaint. These were also denied.

In an official statement to The Miami Hurricane, the university said it was aware of the lawsuit but had not been formally served as of Sept. 29.

“The university has very strong policies concerning student conduct and safety and considers such matters to be of the highest priority,” the statement read. “It will continue to recognize and protect those important interests.”

The university has come under fire twice before in recent years for Title IX-related cases. In October 2015, former student Monica Morrison sued UM, saying the school violated her Title IX rights by mishandling sexual harassment allegations she made against well-known philosophy professor Colin McGinn in 2012. In April 2015, former student Angela Cameron created a petition to demand her alleged rapist be expelled and not allowed to graduate from UM. Jia was found responsible for several allegations, including sexual assault. He was suspended for one semester. The man, UM alumnus David Jia, responded by suing UM, Cameron and Lake in January 2017 for mishandling the case and violating his rights.

The latest suit against UM alleges that the university – including Lake, who was in charge of Title IX cases at the time and was gone from UM at the start of the 2016 academic year – did not take the appropriate steps to ensure her safety on campus, especially after she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression early in the fall semester. The lawsuit also states that Lake allegedly told the plaintiff to “avoid those situations” where her aggressor may come in contact with her. Lake could not be reached for comment.

The complaint also alleges that the assailant physically assaulted the plaintiff at a Sept. 13, 2013 Delta Epsilon Psi fraternity party, and that he “had followed other female freshman students.”

After receiving what she considered subpar help from the Dean of Students office, Jane Doe reported the stalking and subsequent issues to the Coral Gables Police Department.

On Dec. 10, 2013, a panel of three people, including a nurse, a student and the dean of Greek Life, found the assailant responsible for sexual assault and battery, intimate partner/dating violence, underage drinking, physical assault and sexual harassment. Jane Doe, even after the hearing, saw her assailant on campus, so on Dec. 12 she obtained an emergency protective order in Miami-Dade County. On Dec. 16, her assailant was expelled.

The complaint alleges that the university was dismissive with the student’s concerns and, as a result, the student failed two of her courses, which she said badly hurt her GPA. Until fall 2013, she had maintained a 3.8 GPA. The grades were especially harmful for the plaintiff, who said she needed high marks to achieve her goal of getting into medical school.

The student is described as “highly motivated and gifted” in the complaint and attended UM on the merit-based Dickinson scholarship, which awarded her $20,000 per year in tuition, according to the lawsuit.

After more than a semester of back-and-forth with the university administration, “unable to cope with the university’s indifference and suffering from depression,” the student attempted suicide Jan. 25, 2014. Only then did UM allow her to withdraw without markings on her transcript, the lawsuit states. That spring, while recovering at Menninger Clinic in Texas, the student was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Police arrested and interrogated the assailant Dec. 17, 2013, and he admitted to stalking the plaintiff, according to the lawsuit. In spring of 2014, he pled guilty to stalking and was required to complete a sex offender program and perform community service and was placed on probation for three years and permanently placed on the sex offender registry. He must also stay away from Jane Doe.

The victim was eventually able to return to school and graduate from UM in May 2015, and she is now a law student at the University of Houston, according to the lawsuit. However, the student has still not been able to remedy what appear as failing grades from the fall 2013 semester on her transcript.

Lawyers representing the student did not wish to comment at the time of publication.

October 3, 2017

Reporters

Isabella Cueto


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.