Opinion

STAFF EDITORIAL: Too Little, Too Late: Loyola Fails Students When it Comes to Sexual Assault

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

A university’s most vital responsibility is protecting its students. As it becomes more clear that sexual assault is an undeniable problem on college campuses around the country, Loyola hasn’t learned from its own mistakes.

The Phoenix has reported on jarring instances of sexual assault for years, but Loyola’s response to this disgusting trend is all the more disappointing. From lack of transparency to survivors of sexual assault and reporters alike to the unwillingness to admit the problem, Loyola officials have proven themselves unworthy of protecting their students.

Last week, The Phoenix published a story about three students who were allegedly assaulted by the same man. He was banned from two campus buildings where two of the women worked, but it was about five months before he was completely removed from campus, The Phoenix reported.

Sarah Layden, the director of programs and public policy for Resilience, a Chicago organization which supports survivors of sexual violence, said it was “troubling” that three allegations against the same person wasn’t considered an imminent threat to other students.

Allegations from students should be a top priority. Investigations need to be streamlined to prioritize the interests of complainants and other Loyola students, who may be at risk if an investigation takes too long.

The three students said they were often left in the dark during the investigative process, and told The Phoenix they had to do a lot of “digging and asking” for updates on the status of each case.

All three complainants gave Loyola’s Title IX office — which handles reports relating to a federal law which prohibits discrimination based on gender — permission to discuss their cases with The Phoenix. Tim Love, Loyola’s executive director for equity and compliance and the school’s Title IX coordinator, wouldn’t discuss the specifics of each case, but instead stuck to general statements about the investigation process, citing privacy concerns.

All three students were allegedly assaulted on campus, according to interviews and records. According to the women, one alleged assault took place on the east quad just outside the Loyola Information Commons — an area many Loyola students frequent.

Loyola Campus Safety Police Chief Thomas Murray didn’t answer The Phoenix’s repeated interview requests regarding the safety of students, showing not only a lack of transparency but a lack of professionalism and respect toward student reporters.

In February, against the backdrop of alarming statistics about sexual assault at the university, Loyola launched its Office for Equity and Compliance, which will handle reports of sexual violence. This new structure is an opportunity for Loyola officials to shift the tone around sexual violence at this university, but only if they acknowledge the problem and work to fix the systematic downfalls.

Love said the new office will employ three full-time investigators with the ability to devote more time to investigations. In the past, investigators within the Title IX office have been employees with other jobs on campus.

In its announcement of the new office, we would’ve liked to see the university admit it has failed students before. We would’ve liked to see a glimmer of remorse for the people who have been permanently impacted by the system’s failures.

But instead, the email to students announcing the new office acted as though the system has benefited students in the past.

“Loyola has maintained a strong commitment to effectively addressing gender-based violence and bias-motivated discrimination and misconduct within our University community,” the email read, signed by President Jo Ann Rooney and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Winifred Williams.

Loyola students want and deserve answers. They want and deserve a system that won’t repeatedly let them down. They want and deserve a university that values their safety and security.

When Phoenix reporters ask about individual cases, they aren’t looking for sensitive and personal details of alleged assaults. They are looking for answers to concerning issues surrounding the investigation process and safety on campus.

While privacy is important and should be respected, there’s a point where university officials have a responsibility to be upfront about these issues. Jarring patterns of sexual violence certainly warrant some answers from university officials we are supposed to trust.

Nearly 70 percent of Loyola’s student population is female, according to U.S. News and World Report. And females ages 18-24 are at an elevated risk for sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That means nearly 70 percent of Loyola’s student population is more likely to go through sexual assault, and Loyola should commit to a system built to curb this problem.

Last week’s story is only the latest in a disheartening string of Phoenix reports.

In April, The Phoenix published a survivor’s account of his process through understanding the trauma. He said he was drugged and sexually assaulted by a man who was introduced to him by a former Loyola professor.

Throughout the reporting process for that story, The Phoenix was repeatedly stonewalled for weeks by multiple members of Loyola’s administration, saying they wouldn’t comment because of a pending investigation with the Chicago Police Department about the alleged assault. Again, the survivor had given The Phoenix permission to discuss the case with Title IX employees.

What’s worse, The Phoenix asked specific questions about the former professor who was named in the police report, and received little relevant information. Loyola officials refused to say when and for how long the former professor was employed at the university.

This doesn’t inspire confidence for Loyola students — students who chose this university in good faith that they would be protected and respected, that their safety would be a top priority. If the administration was upfront about the issues surrounding sexual assault at Loyola, it could jumpstart actual change.

But instead, the university’s approach to the issue is hush-hush — despite this being a problem for years.

In January 2013, a then-first-year at Loyola was accused of two rapes on back-to-back nights. He was initially charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault, but pled guilty to a simple battery misdemeanor in 2015 and served a year of misdemeanor probation — meaning he didn’t face any prison time.

In December 2016, a former Loyola athlete was sentenced to 10 years in a Georgia prison after pleading guilty to a 2013 rape allegation, which occurred out-of-state. He played on the Loyola team from the fall of 2013 to the spring of 2016 before leaving for unspecified reasons.

At the time, the Loyola athletics department wouldn’t comment on the allegations, but then-Title IX Coordinator Thomas Kelly released a statement saying the university had no knowledge of the accusation until media inquiries came in.

In 2016, there were 15 cases of on-campus sexual violence and 55 cases off campus, The Phoenix reported. This information was sent to the Illinois Attorney General in accordance with a new state law. It’s technically publicly available, but must be obtained through the attorney general.

Last semester, Loyola officials said they have considered making this information public. Love told The Phoenix he intends to publish the 2018 numbers after Loyola submits them to the attorney general this fall, but the 2017 report hasn’t been published on Loyola’s website.

There were also eight rapes reported inside Loyola’s own residence halls in 2017, according to data published in accordance with a federal law called the Clery Act, which relates to crime on and near college campuses. With those statistics, it’s difficult to feel safe in areas where Loyola students study, eat, sleep and live.

When asked about the eight rapes in Loyola dorms during the reporting process for that story, Love, Campus Safety officials and Wellness Center Assistant Director of Health Promotion Mira Krivoshey didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Once again, we were denied answers we deserved as students and reporters.

When the university hides the reality of sexual assault, it only hurts the students. Perpetrators thrive in the university’s silence.

This pattern of systematic issues with Loyola’s handling of Title IX reports isn’t new, and some could argue it’s been getting worse in recent years. A woman spoke with The Phoenix in 2017 about the handling of her sexual misconduct report. She said she didn’t want to discourage others from coming forward, but said she had issues with Loyola’s process.

“I would not go through this again, and I would not recommend it for other people,” the woman told The Phoenix at the time.

Once again, Loyola administration members denied questions about the specific case, despite reporters gaining permission to discuss the case from the survivor.

Our question for Loyola administration: who do you want to protect? Do you want to protect survivors of sexual assault and the student body as a whole? Or do you want to protect dangerous perpetrators of sexual violence?

That’s for you to decide.

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