An Indiana college student has accused Hanover College of threatening her with expulsion for reporting that a former boyfriend had raped, harassed and physically abused her.
The student filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which told the small Presbyterian college last week that it was under investigation.
The student told The Huffington Post that college officials instructed her over two years to take her case to police rather than launching its own inquiry and tried to keep her from living on campus.
She also said the liberal arts college failed to stop the former boyfriend and his new girlfriend from harassing her.
Colleges are obligated under the federal Title IX gender equity law to prevent and stop harassment after they have been notified of it.
The student and Hanover reached a mediation agreement last summer that allowed her to file a harassment complaint against the man and his new girlfriend.
But the college decided in November that the former boyfriend and his girlfriend were not responsible for harassment and allowed the school to file its own harassment complaint against the student.
The Hanover student misconduct board did so after ruling that she had tried to have her former boyfriend punished using various mechanisms, such as campus security, the conduct review process, the man’s fraternity, the court system and the Department of Education.
“Your on-going dispute with [the former boyfriend] is not a college matter and we have no interest in being made a party to it,” wrote David Yeagar, vice president and dean of student life at Hanover, adding that he hoped she would separate her “conflict” from her life on campus.
However, the college couldn’t punish the student because that type of harassment isn’t covered by the school code of conduct.
“Even though they didn’t end up imposing disciplinary actions, just sending a letter condemning her for speaking out is intimidating enough,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “Certainly if word gets around that the college regards telling people that there’s a sexual predator on campus as harassment then people are going to be intimidated into staying silent.”
Federal officials decided to investigate whether the harassment claim against the woman was a form of retaliation against a sexual assault victim, and they also are looking into whether the school failed to stop the previously reported harassment.
A Hanover spokeswoman said the college takes sexual misconduct seriously, but said federal law prevented her from commenting on the case specifically.
“The College is confident that the evidence will demonstrate its commitment to creating and fostering a welcoming educational environment for all students,” said Hanover spokeswoman Rhonda L. Burch in a statement.
The Education Department could order the college to take specific steps to reform its policies, and the federal government could withhold Pell grants, student loans and other public funding.
The student said she plans to remain at the college, although she told The Huffington Post she hates it there.
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