A sexual assault was reported to the Trinity University Police Department in mid-September, citing an incident that allegedly happened on Aug. 24 in South Residence Hall. In the two months that have passed since the alleged assault took place, a confusing maze of intersecting federal regulations and institutional sexual assault policies have generated rampant rumors and speculation around campus.
The Report and Investigation
According to a federal Title IX update, generated on April 4, 2011, by the United States Department of Education, a letter, commonly referred to as the “Dear Colleague Letter,” was created to ensure that all universities pursue allegations of sexual misconduct, regardless of who reports the misconduct.
“If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects,” states the “Dear Colleague” letter.
Not only does the university have to pursue any sexual assault reports it may hear of, it must also investigate them, even against the expressed wishes of alleged victims. The university will lose federal funding if it does not comply with the letter.
“If the complainant requests confidentiality or asks that the complaint not be pursued, the school should take all reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the complaint consistent with the request for confidentiality,” the letter dictates.
Thus, when reports of an alleged sexual assault reached Campus and Community Involvement by mid-September, despite the fact that the alleged victim did not report it and initially requested that the university not take action, staff members were federally required to investigate.
The investigation led to the Trinity University Police Department questioning six male students in relation to the alleged assault. As a result of this questioning, on Oct. 5 the six students were brought before the University Conduct Board on allegations that they violated Trinity’s sexual misconduct policy and the university’s respect for others policy, a policy listed in the University Standards of Conduct.
Trinity’s sexual misconduct policy is a document that presents a comprehensive definition of sexual misconduct. The definition takes into consideration consent, force, coercion and incapacitation, and states specifically that non-consensual sexual contact, non-consensual sexual intercourse and sexual exploitation are all forms of sexual misconduct.
The document includes the following summary of sexual misconduct: “In order for individuals to engage in sexual activity of any type with each other, there must be clear, knowing and voluntary consent prior to and during sexual activity. Consent is sexual permission. Consent can be given by word or action, but non-verbal consent is not as clear as talking about what you want sexually and what you don’t. Consent to some form of sexual activity cannot be automatically taken as consent to any other form of sexual activity. Silence – without actions demonstrating permission – cannot be assumed to show consent.”
Hearing and Sanctioning
The University Conduct Board is a board chaired by the dean of students and composed of a faculty member, a Student Affairs staff member and a student currently serving on the Student Conduct Board. Only the faculty member, Student Affairs staff member and Student Conduct Board member are allowed to vote on hearings.
During a University Conduct Board hearing, each student – be they the alleged victim(s) or the alleged attacker(s) – are entitled to one support person and any legal counsel they may want.
When hearing a sexual assault case, the University Conduct Board relies on the “greater weight of the credible evidence presented at the hearing” to determine responsibility as stated in the university’s sexual assault webpage. The page also states that “the board reserves the right to determine if such evidence is credible on its face or could potentially be subject to rebuttal, and thus be of questionable value.”
As a result of the hearing on Oct. 5, two of the six students were found to be in violation of both the sexual misconduct policy and the respect for others policy. They were both expelled. Because of the expulsion, the students were forced to move out of their dorms and could not attend any school activities other than classes. The remaining four students were all found to be in violation of the respect for others policy and were placed on probation.
Per university policy, all sanctioned individuals are eligible to submit a written appeal within five days of their sanctioning. The appeal must be based on “clearing erroneous findings of fact; significant procedural irregularities that denied the student a fair hearing; substantial new information not available at the time of the original hearing; the information presented at the hearing was clearly insufficient to support the finding; and the sanction is unreasonably harsh or lenient,” according the Conduct Review Board’s page on the Trinity website.
In this particular case, three of the alleged attackers decided to appeal their sanctions. The two students found in violation of the sexual misconduct policy successfully appealed this sanction; Therefore on Oct. 25, the decision was overturned and they were promptly reinstated as students. Additionally, one of the students found in violation of the respect for others policy successfully appealed the sanction. It was overturned, and the probation was dropped.
TUPD turned the case over to the San Antonio district attorney’s office. According to Paul Chapa, chief of Trinity University police, the responsibility of the university police department is to conduct a preliminary investigation, then submit any findings to either the district attorney’s office, the campus judicial process or both.
The case was then closed by the DA’s office for unknown reasons, as the office declined to comment on the situation, citing privacy reasons. TUPD declined to comment on the case as well for similar confidentiality reasons.