By Jada Butler
During the first two weeks of the fall 2017 semester, four consecutive cases of sexual assault were reported by students, according to the crime log maintained by the Public Safety department, as required by federal law. Immediately following the allegations, on Sept. 15, the offices of Campus Life, Public Safety and the athletics department held a joint Title IX training day to educate students and staff on state and federal law, bystander training, and the university’s policies.
This 21⁄2 hour training was attended by 631 participants and included two university speakers, Michael Berthel, dean of students, and Jean Anne Smith, assistant dean of students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, and Kim Bryson, a representative from the New York State Police Department. Video training materials were also provided for attendees.
Members of athletic teams, student clubs, fraternities and sororities were required to attend the training. It focused on issues associated with sexual respect and sexual harassment and violence, but it was not focused on any particular incident or incidents, according to Berthel.
Several athletes have contributed to the discussion of sexual assault that they have witnessed within their own teams and in the larger athletic department. A member of the rugby team who did not want to be named, confirmed that “it’s being talked about by lots of people on campus.” The Pioneer learned about both the reports of sexual assault and the meeting from multiple students, who asked that their names not be used.
“For privacy reasons that are mandated by law, we cannot comment on any specific case or allegation, and of course we cannot comment on rumors,” Berthel said. Under the Clery Act, a federal law that aims to ensure transparency around campus crime reporting, the university is required to make publicly available information about every crime reported to public safety, listing the date (occurred and reported), nature, time, general location, and the disposition of the complaint, if known. The law requires both public and private colleges to maintain daily crime logs, but it does not require publication of confidential information, such as names and specific locations.
The University consults with law enforcement professionals when appropriate to determine the best course of action to ensure campus safety and security, according to Berthel. “I cannot comment on particular incidents, but the University evaluates every incident to determine whether a timely warning to the campus is necessary,” Berthel said in an email. “If we determine that such a warning under the Clery Act is necessary, we would notify the entire campus.”
Yet, students have expressed frustration about the lack of information that was provided about the alleged sexual assaults at the beginning of this semester. “I feel like there is no specific protocol in place if, God forbid, you’re sexually assaulted,” Tianna D’Italia, a junior business major and PR chair for Delta Zeta sorority, said. D’Italia believes that students should at least be notified when things of this nature happen on campus. “Shed a light on what’s going on. It shouldn’t take 50 unknown things to happen before things change,” she said. “Don’t make it such an uncomfortable thing to talk about, because it’s so important and affects every single student.”
Berthel defended the university’s reporting protocols. “Long Island University is committed to creating and maintaining an educational environment free from all forms of sexual misconduct, and LIU takes its responsibility to protect our students with the utmost seriousness,” he said. As a member of the New York Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, Long Island University supported New York State’s “Enough is Enough” law, that Governor Cuomo signed into law in 2015, and which contains the nation’s most aggressive law addressing sexual assault on campuses, Berthel said in an email. The university policies and procedures on sexual assault must comply with both that state law and the federal Title IX law.
One in three women experience some kind of abuse in college, according to the Safe Center of Long Island, a nonprofit agency serving victims of abuse. “If it happens to you, don’t stay quiet. It’s best to get help,” Stephanie Jean, a representative of the Safe Center, said. “If you do want to reach out, come forward and reach out. The Safe Center has a 24-hour hotline, seven days a week, and it’s free.”
The university provides additional resources and support for victims of sexual violence and harassment, including counseling and advocacy. Jean Anne Smith, the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, serves as a liaison for all students involved, educating them on relevant policies, procedures, and the process. Staff from the Center for Healthy Living provides free counseling as a service to Post students. Both are available to provide confidential support.
Smith has been the Deputy Title IX Coordinator for the Post campus since her hire as Associate Dean of Students in 2014. “I have an open door policy. All students, staff and faculty can come to my office at any time to discuss concerns,” Smith said. Smith assists in setting up training sessions, verifying policy and procedures and discusses support services on and off campus. “I feel that the most important part of my job is being a resource for all community members,” she said.
“LIU is committed to ensuring that all our students receive appropriate training and are educated about these important issues,” Berthel said. While the September 15 training was focused on student leaders, athletes and clubs members, it was only one of over a dozen trainings and programs that are hosted annually. All students are trained on sexual respect and Title IX during the required new student orientation. Annual educational programs hosted in conjunction with Campus and Greek Life include events such as Take Back the Night, “The Hunting Ground” screening, and Clothesline for Courage, which took place during the 2016-2017 school year and were covered by The Pioneer.
All complaints are handled in accordance with the procedures set forth in the university’s Sexual Violence and Harassment Policy, which can be found in the student handbook at liu.edu/post/studenthandbook or on the university website at liu.edu/About-LIU/University-Policies/ Sexual-Respect.
The policy requires an investigation of allegations of sexual violence and harassment. Trained investigators in Campus Life conduct those investigations, according to Berthel. All hearing officers are regularly trained on the university policy and how to properly investigate any alleged violation of the code of conduct. In addition, campus life staff members participate in outside trainings that are developed for these specific investigations, according to Berthel.
At the end any investigation, there is a determination based upon a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, of whether a violation occurred and, if so, what the appropriate sanction is. The sanction will depend upon the particular facts and the seriousness of the violation, and could include reprimand, counseling, suspension, or expulsion, Berthel said. Students also have the ability to appeal, in writing, the outcome of the investigation to the university.
Multiple student athletes, who spoke to the Pioneer anonymously for fear of reprimand, have confirmed that at least one of the students responsible for the alleged sexual assault cases in the beginning of the fall semester has been suspended, yet for how long is unknown. Berthel would not comment on specific cases due to confidentiality concerns.
The Pioneer contacted two out of the four victims of these alleged incidents, but they chose to keep their stories off the record, to prevent further injury. The safety of the complaining parties and of students on campus are of paramount importance, according to Berthel. “While we cannot comment on specific cases, the university takes appropriate measures to ensure safety and security on campus,” he said.
The university can take a number of steps to address possible safety concerns while a case is investigated and possibly adjudicated if the level of the crime goes beyond university disciplinary standards. These could include a no-contact order between students, suspension from the residence halls, or suspension from campus pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the university policy.