Questions about Title IX processes and conflicts of interest raised at Brown

From a letter written by undergraduate representatives to Brown University’s Task Force on Sexual Assault:

Through our work on the task force, we have seen first hand the difficulties in creating change in a bureaucratic system and understand that this process can be lengthy and frustrating. But the issues that the cases discussed over the past week have raised are not mere procedural hiccups. They are clear examples of the impact of bias, power and influence on this process. We strongly believe that policies protecting students who have experienced sexual violence must be implemented consistently and fairly, regardless of the power dynamics at play.

From our personal experiences of the process, we know that hearings are held when it has been determined that an incident could plausibly have occurred. As The Herald outlined in a March 4 article, Brown dropped chargesagainst the student accused of serving a drink with GHB. This alleged perpetrator has a father who sits on the Corporation’s Board of Trustees. The decision surprised both women involved, with one writing to an administrator that she thought the University would hold a hearing given the witness testimony provided.

This was our understanding of the hearing process, and we find it highly unusual that these women were not even allowed to present their case in a hearing. The University decided that the testimony of these survivors was not credible enough to be heard . . . 

It is imperative that University policies and procedures are carried out equitably and consistently, regardless of connections, power, money or other extenuating factors. Definitions of consent need to be clear and consistent in policy and implementation and incorporate an understanding of the ways that date-rape drugs impact an individual’s ability to consent.

In order to regain the trust of the student body, the University needs to take seriously its obligation to protect all students, create a safe learning environment and take a stronger stance against external influence on the adjudication and sanctioning processes for sexual violence. It is our hope that the task force’s substantial efforts will not be undermined by unfair and inconsistent implementation.

And more from the Huffington Post:

Brown University is already under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education into how it handles sexual violence on campus. Both men and women have come forward to accuse the school in Providence, Rhode Island, of failing to adequately punish offenders. And now, the messy handling of the drugging investigation has left alleged victims angry they were denied a hearing, while the fraternity is accusing the school of unjustly punishing it . . .

The women reported the alleged drugging and assault to the university on Oct. 18. Brown opened an investigation, collecting hair and urine samples from the women to be sent to two labs to be tested for date rape drugs, such as gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB). Carlson Company was contracted to conduct a hair test on the female student with the allergies, and Lifespan Laboratories to conduct a urine analysis on her friend who had reported being sexually assaulted. By the end of November, both tests had come back concluding GHB was present in the women, according to toxicology reports reviewed by The Huffington Post.

But the results were put in doubt in December after the student accused of drugging the women had his own expert review the toxicology reports, according to university documents and emails. That student obtained a court injunction on the hearing that month; the school then dropped the charges in February, school records show.

At issue, multiple experts who reviewed the toxicology reports questioned whether Brown had received tests that showed endogenous, or naturally occurring, levels of GHB, or exogenous levels, which would suggest a drugging. The toxicologist hired by Brown said the positive results suggested naturally occurring levels, but noted it’s rare to catch evidence of a GHB drugging in these tests.

Upon further review from independent experts, the school decided in February the toxicology results were “inconclusive” because the labs had not followed proper testing protocols. It cut in half the four-year suspension in it had given Phi Psi in January, when it deemed the fraternity had “facilitated” conditions leading to sexual violence.

On Feb. 23, Phi Psi started distributing on campus and to media outlets a statement that raised doubts about the results of one GHB test and said the second came back “conclusively negative.” This language is disputed, but members did not respond to request for comment on the discrepancy.

The women question Brown’s decision to drop conduct charges, since they say the university told them their testimony was credible enough to at least hold a hearing. Other students who have been involved in the student conduct process say hearings are often held based on complainant and witness testimony, and questioned whether the investigation was derailed by a conflict of interest.