University addresses confusion surrounding student expulsions

By Abbey Nickel and Jacob King 

In the aftermath of a sexual assault investigation at the University of Findlay that ended in the dismissal of two student-athletes Justin Browning and Alphonso Baity , students and parents have been left with questions surrounding the investigation and University policies regarding sexual assault allegations.

Dave Emsweller, vice president for student affairs at UF, says that one of the most concerning issues right now for students is why law enforcement wasn’t contacted when the assault was reported to University officials.

According to Emsweller, the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, amendments made to the Clery Act leave it up to the victim to report the assault, and a University investigation and a criminal investigation are two different matters.

“There is a lot of confusion about this. People are saying ‘why weren’t the police involved from the very beginning?’ and that’s up to the victim,” said Emsweller. “It makes it clear that unless the victim wants it reported, you can be held responsible for violating their rights if you report it.  That’s the dilemma.  In all honesty I would prefer that they report it to the police. But the law makes it pretty clear that the victim has that right to decide, not the University.”

The Pulse learned last week that the victim has now filed a report with Findlay Police.  Emsweller said there’s no way to estimate how long the police investigation will take, and right now, it’s a matter of waiting to see how law enforcement will handle the case.

Emsweller said that at the time of the investigation, University officials checked with both a prosecutor and the Clery Center for clarity on how to respond to the reported incident – and both said that only the victim has the right to report it to law enforcement.

But even so, Emsweller said that it’s the University’s right to dismiss students based on any offense they consider inappropriate.

“Colleges and universities have their own right to have their own code of conduct and decide what ‘s ‘suspendable’ and ‘dismissible’ separate from a criminal aspect,” he said. “A student could do something on a campus – not even sexual assault – that would not be punishable by criminal charges but we would deem not appropriate, and decide as an institution that we don’t want you as a student. In this case, with the evidence we’ve gathered, it was serious enough to definitely warrant a dismissal.”

Emsweller said that the University is not expected to act in place of police – but act based on its own policies and follow the procedures put forth by the VAWA amendments to the Clery Act and Title IX.

The 2013 VAWA amendments made to the Clery Act gave campus victims of sexual violence additional rights, including options regarding notifying law enforcement and their own rights to choose, according to the Clery Center website.

Title IX, is a federal civil rights law that bans sexual discrimination, harassment, and violence, according to Campus Safety Magazine.

“I think what’s getting presented is that we’re supposed to act like law enforcement and the public is acting like we’re acting a judicial system. We’re not,” he said. “My big concern for students and what they need to understand is what the police do or want to do is irrelevant.  We have to act.”

Phil Lucas, associate professor of criminal justice and forensic science agreed that the dismissal of the two students was based from an administrative standpoint.

“Conviction applies to the criminal courts, this is strictly an administrative function from the university,” said Lucas, “What the university does has nothing to do with the criminal part of things,” said Lucas.

Emsweller said the University policies on sexual assault based on federal laws have always been available to students on the University website, and they outline how a University must proceed if and when a sexual assault is reported.

According to the policy, all investigations of sexual assault at UF begin as Title IX cases, and the investigations are completed under the regulatory requirements of the Clery and Campus Save Acts, and the University will not delay internal investigations regardless of law enforcement investigations.

The investigations are conducted by a Title IX investigator and a Title IX coordinator. At UF, the Title IX coordinator is Brandi Laurita, the assistant athletic director.  Laurita is responsible for coordinating the University’s compliance with Title IX.  Matt Bruskotter, the assistant dean for environmental, safety, security and emergency management is UF’s Title IX investigator and is  responsible for leading investigations and coordinating the investigations with Laurita.

In addition to Laurita and Bruskotter, the director of student housing, director of human resources, and Emsweller may also be utilized to complete an investigation, following the University’s Title IX investigation procedures, which can be found on the University website.

Emsweller said the issue of alcohol is another unclear issue that has come to the surface over the last couple of weeks.  Emsweller said that alcohol was consumed off-campus in this particular incident – but that doesn’t change the seriousness of consent and what the law dictates.

“If someone is intoxicated, they can’t give consent.  I think that’s a tough concept for students to understand sometimes. That’s crystal clear in the law,” said Emsweller.

Emsweller said that the thing that should be weighing heavily on students’ minds right now is how the choices they make can affect them in the long run. “Students need to know that the decisions they make when they’re at parties or intoxicated can impact their lives forever,” said Emsweller. “You’re at a party, you make a decision, and now all of the sudden you’re dismissed from school and your entire life has been turned upside down.  That’s what’s troubling to me.”

Even though both Browning and Baity have been expelled and their appeals of their dismissals have been denied, Emsweller said that possibilities still exist for the two of them to further their education.

“How it works is if you want to transfer to a different school, not every school does this… they’re obviously going to want your transcripts but also… a school will settle a transfer recommendation form back to your previous institutions,” said Emsweller, “Normally that form asks for things like your financial standing, if you paid your bills on time, but it also asks for student behavior and if there’s anything that needs to be disclosed.”

Emsweller says that he hopes that students will continue to heal and move forward, but also hopes that they learn some valuable lessons from the situation. One of those lessons is the issue of being a bystander and when you see something happening, you’re expected to step in.

“The law also makes that clear, and I think that’s something else that students might not get.  If you’re a bystander, you’re expected to step in and get help.  We’re supposed to be standing up for each other here,” said Emsweller. “I want people to be careful at parties and realize what they’re doing.  Students need to remember that we’re not only going to be judged by what we do, but by what we don’t do.”

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