Cameron Morgan, Eve Hermann, Sarah Grace Battles and Robby Gadd, Chattanooga, Tenn. — Students distributed a letter to about 1,000 faculty and staff through University mail, Feb. 18, raising concerns that the administration mishandled a sexual harassment case opened with the Dean of Students Office, and again when the case was appealed during the Fall 2014 semester.
The students allege that the case under Dean of Students was judged on a false pool of evidence because testimonies from students were said to have been lost. Under a Title IX review of the case by Dr. John Delaney, vice chancellor for student development, the students claim that the criteria for judging the case was not based on Title IX, but the Student Code of Conduct, and false information about student and faculty testimonies was supplied. The students also reference and cite potentially mishandled documents in the Corey Mock case from spring 2014, which ended in the expulsion of Mock in the fall of 2014.
Though the author is unknown, four female students were mentioned at the bottom of the letter as points of contact for victims and faculty to express concern: Erica Paris, Katie Fresolone, Shelby McDowell and Emily Weddle. They do not claim to any involvement writing the letter.
Chancellor Angle reached out to faculty after the letter, Feb. 19, saying that Title IX coordinator Bryan Samuel and the UT office of general counsel are currently reviewing the statements made in the letter.
“UTC must maintain an atmosphere of trust and confidence on this campus so that students, faculty and staff feel empowered to come forward and report incidents of misconduct,” Angle wrote to faculty. “We will embrace improvements to our process that may result from this investigation and will share details of any outcomes and procedural changes with campus.”
A male student was accused fall 2014 of sexually harassing female students and a female faculty member, and intimidating students and faculty in the English Department.
The letter from students states, “The harassment included, but was not limited to, calling the female students ‘whores’ and such, following the female students to their cars, putting violent pornography on his computer for students behind him to see during class and violently confronting two faculty members outside their offices.”
The students involved submitted testimony in October to Dean of Students James Hicks through counsel from Prof. Sara Peters, director of the Women’s Center on campus. Faculty went through English Department Head Dr. Chris Stuart, who turned over the written testimony to Hicks.
“I heard complaints from three different faculty, some more than once,” Stuart said. “In all, I’d say there were five to six incidents that I heard.”
Dr. Matthew Guy submitted a written testimony regarding the conduct of the student in class.
“The actions I saw with students involved whistling when students would come up to ask questions, whistling during my tests,” Guy said. “I also had a professor come in to talk about an organization, and his comments to her about her dress in front of a full class I interpreted as creepy.”
Guy also said that students in his class were reticent to come forward or complain about the male student because he would threaten them in class.
The student letter references an incident which ended in Guy refusing to have the male student in his class.
“The student told me he was going to come into my office whether I liked it or not,” Guy said. “I asked him if that was a threat. He just smiled and walked out of the classroom. That was the last thing he said to me. [Later] I was having a conversation with another professor, and [the student] came up to my office door. I asked him to leave and he refused. I pulled the other professor in my office to diffuse the situation.”
Guy’s complaint went through Stuart, and then to Hicks with the rest of the testimonies. Guy said he was led to believe by Hicks’s admission that Hicks was the one in charge of the testimonies, while Chad Clark, associate dean of judicial affairs in Student Development, led the hearing.
The Student Conduct Board, comprised of administration and students, no faculty, met Nov. 5. The student letter claims that several students submitted written testimony alongside several members of the English faculty. Erica Paris was the only student who testified in person.
“He never threatened to hurt me like he did Dr. Guy, but he was intimidating,” Paris said.
Paris, who was a student in Dr. Verbie Prevost’s class with the male student, said she was scared of the student to the point that she ran away from him when he followed her out of class. She also said that the student carried around a knife which “stuck half-way out of his pocket” for students to see.
“After I submitted the complaint, he was called into Hicks’s office,” Paris said. “[Later] he came up to me as I was sitting on a bench and got right in my face — to the point I had to move back he was so close — and he said, ‘Well I didn’t realize I bothered you so much. You didn’t have to report me.'”
At the board meeting, Paris said she felt the board had already made up their mind in the situation.
“In the meeting, all the board members had packets in front of them,” Paris said. “Sara Peters and I looked through them, and they had an outline of the way the meeting was going to happen and some emails.”
She recalls one email from Stuart, which explained that he had received several complaints about the male student. None of the emails included went into specifics about the student, and Paris said that she was later told that these emails had been lost.
What concerned Paris was the demeanor of the board.
“They weren’t even looking at the packet,” she said. “[In the hearing] I was asked two, three questions, and it seemed like they already had their minds made up.”
“One student [on the board] asked me, ‘If you were scared, why didn’t you tell him to stop?,’ as if running away from him wasn’t telling him to stop,” Paris said.
She also suggests that the male student was allowed to defend himself for a longer time than she was questioned. His defense, in Paris’s words, was that he was misunderstood.
“He said that it wasn’t his fault he had an ‘edge,'” she said.
Paris said after the questions she was asked to leave. She said she wanted to stay to defend any inconsistencies that came up when the male was questioned, but she was too scared to ask because of the nature of the meeting.
No other witnesses testified in person according to the student letter.
Ultimately, the student was found not guilty of any wrong behavior by the board under policies in the Student Code of Conduct.
Paris was notified by Clark and said that she immediately emailed him back to appeal the case with no response.
Paris has since filed a Title IX complaint separate to that appealed after the Conduct Board. Paris said she did not know that Delaney had been contacted after the decision.
Students appealed the case under Title IX to Dean John Delaney, and the student letter suggests that Hicks headed up the process. Due to the nature of Title IX proceedings, faculty’s testimonies and statements were not admitted.
After review, Delaney sent an email to Stuart, Hicks and Clark, Dec. 10, saying that the male accused was “not in violation of our Student Code of Conduct for Harassment as described in our Standards of Conduct (Item # (6), p.37 of the Student Handbook).”
The email from Delaney does not mention Title IX or Title IX policy in his criteria for decision.
Following this decision, armed police in civilian clothes were added to two classes which the male attended.
Stuart says that since Delaney’s decision, he has not heard complaints about the student. Still he feels that the case was mishandled.
“I was frustrated and surprised by the decision,” Stuart said. “If all the stories were told as they had been in my office, I believe this student should have been found guilty. I don’t think there was a willful or malicious intent by anyone, but the case was mismanaged somewhere.”
Guy believes that the case came down to a lack of understanding.
“The Department of Student Development is inept,” Guy said. “I don’t think they care about student or faculty safety.”
When the Echo reached out to students who served on the board and to Hicks, we were forwarded to Chuck Cantrell, associate vice chancellor of marketing and communication.
Cantrell responded in email, writing, “I am prohibited by federal law from discussing the specifics of any student conduct matter. I can tell you that Chancellor Angle has asked our Title IX coordinator [Bryan Samuel] to work with the UT General Counsel’s Office to look into a student conduct investigation to see if all of our processes where followed correctly and if there are improvements that can be made in our processes.”
A large portion of the letter addressed the Corey Mock case, which came to a light after a change in the ruling found him guilty of sexual misconduct Fall 2014. The case, which was originally filed April 2014, was citied in the letter from students as another incident in which testimony was altered or lost by the Dean of Students Office.
In the VICE article which the letter references, Molly Morris, the victim in the case, said that she had difficulty communicating and reaching Clark, who was handling her case, and had to rely on Sara Peters to relay information.
In regards to her testimony, Morris expressed shock when talking to Clark about her statement against Mock.
“My statement was completely inaccurate,” Morris says. “So many details were changed to be the opposite of what I said, in favor of the assaulter. It seemed like he had just sent the wrong statement. When I realized it was in fact mine, I felt so incredibly frustrated.”
The article continues:
In Clark’s “Notes from Investigative meeting with M. Morris,” he listed the “alleged sexual misconduct incident on the early morning of March 15, 2014,” which Morris corrected to “early morning (after 2 a.m.) of March 16, 2014.” He also said that Morris had told him that she “became ill from excess consumption of alcohol in a shot [sic] amount of time,” which she revised to “Ms. Morris became dizzy and sick to her stomach shortly after consuming the tainted drink.” Clark wrote that “Ms. Morris recalls regaining consciousness while She and Mr. Mock engaged in sexual intercourse,” which Morris changed to “Ms. Morris recalls regaining consciousness due to sharp vaginal pain. She saw Mr. Mock on top of her, she was lying flat on her back, and his penis inside her vagina.”
Morris says that she told Clark, “This is not what I said. Don’t use that in my case file.”
An additional article by The Chattanooga Times Free Press quoted from the Mock case to describe the attitude of the University:
“The recent focus on sexual assault on campuses … has resulted in heightened attention and care about how colleges and universities define and respond to allegations of sexual assault and address issues of ‘consent’ that are typically associated with sexual assault allegations,” a findings of fact document in the Mock case states.
In the 2013-14 crime stats, five incidents of sexual misconduct and assault were cited on campus, up from two the prior year.