In Focus: Northwestern community looks to change sexual assault procedures as Ludlow case moves forward
May 27, 2014
In the midst of national outcry and campus activism, Northwestern may soon be defending itself against two lawsuits alleging the school mishandled students’ complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
On Thursday, the attorney of an NU graduate student said his client might sue the University under Title IX, which would mark the second such suit against the administration this year. As the first progresses slowly through the court system, students and professors have taken matters into their own hands.
The Daily spoke to two other students — one who went through the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System and one who chose not to — whose stories indicate the University’s processes for handling sexual violence don’t always put the survivor first.
NU’s student handbook defines sexual assault as any intentional, non-consensual touching or fondling by an individual of another person’s genitals, breasts, thighs or buttocks, as well as any touching or fondling of the individual against the victim’s will and any non-consensual acts involving penetration.
An additional policy, issued in January, defines consent to be knowing, active, voluntary, present and ongoing. It also states consent is not present when an individual is incapacitated due to age or physical conditions such as intoxication or lack of consciousness.
This fall, the University plans to improve its disciplinary system for sexual assault complaints. Though these changes were in motion before a Medill junior filed suit, her story brought NU to the forefront of the national conversation on sexual assault. Administrators have already implemented what they say are progressive policies on sexual violence in an attempt to make NU a model of a safe campus.
“I would love to see Northwestern be an absolute leader,” University President Morton Schapiro said in an interview last month with The Daily. “There’s nothing more important than the safety of our students.”
At a panel in April, Schapiro spoke about the challenges the Medill junior’s lawsuit raises and the complexities of addressing sexual assault.
“It’s a question that’s not always easy to figure out what to do,” he said. “Sometimes we fail miserably with that.”
Behind the lawsuit
NU joined the national conversation in February, when the Medill junior filed a Title IX lawsuit against the University. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in education, which includes sexual assault and harassment.
The suit alleges NU failed to adequately address the student’s complaint that philosophy Prof. Peter Ludlow sexually assaulted her. The student is also suing Ludlow under the Gender Violence Act of Illinois, which guarantees legal protection to victims of gender-based violence.
The lawsuit was filed two years after the alleged incident took place, a period filled with anxiety and isolation for the student, she told The Daily in February.
She met Ludlow at the beginning of her freshman year in “Philosophy of Cyberspace,” a course about ethical questions of virtual worlds.The student said she developed a professional relationship with Ludlow after interviewing him for a journalism project.
Although she enjoyed his class, the student said some discussions were uncomfortable. Course content included the use of Second Life, a program that allows users to interact via avatars. The student told The Daily that at least once Ludlow showed a “graphic video of virtual people having sex” that “weirded everybody out.” In the professor’s response to the Gender Violence Act suit, he confirmed that some of the video clips included “anthropomorphic ‘furry’ avatars engaged in something like sex.”
The next quarter, the student and Ludlow arranged to attend a Chicago art show relevant to his research. On Feb. 10, they went to several art exhibits and bars, and the student said Ludlow repeatedly bought her alcohol despite her protests and fact that she was underage.
Ludlow eventually brought the student to his Chicago apartment, ignoring her repeated requests to be driven back to Evanston, the suit alleges. The suit says that Ludlow forcibly kissed and groped her. After blacking out that night, the student said she woke up the next morning in Ludlow’s bed with his arms around her. Ludlow then dropped the student off in Evanston.
Two days after the incident, the student attempted suicide. She was hospitalized for three days and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.
The student reported the incident, launching a two-month investigation by Joan Slavin, the director of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office.
Ludlow has denied all allegations of sexual assault through his attorneys. In a statement, Ludlow’s attorneys said the student “initiated friendly communications” the day after the alleged assault and before it engaged in “unprofessional communications” with him.
When a sexual assault not committed by a student is reported to the University, Slavin’s office investigates the incident and releases findings that inform potential sanctions. In 2012, University policy prohibited student-faculty relationships in which the professor held a supervisory position over the student. Since NU’s policy was overhauled in January, all romantic relationships between faculty and students are prohibited.
Slavin interviewed the student, Ludlow and “other witnesses,” in addition to reviewing documents the student provided. She concluded her investigation in April 2012, when she emailed the student a summary of her findings. She found Ludlow had made “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” toward the student and that he violated NU’s sexual misconduct policy.
Slavin did not tell the student about any disciplinary actions taken against Ludlow due to “its confidential personnel nature,” according to an email Slavin sent her.
The University imposed disciplinary sanctions on Ludlow after the investigation, denying him a pay raise for the 2012-13 academic year, rescinding his endowed professorship, requiring him to complete a harassment-prevention training program and issuing a no-contact directive.
The student was not informed of these sanctions and learned that Ludlow would remain on campus through another professor. The next quarter, the student said she repeatedly ran into Ludlow, interactions that triggered anxiety and panic attacks.
She sought assistance from the Center for Awareness, Response and Education, the University’s advocacy office for sexual assault survivors.
She called the resource “totally useless.”
The student used CARE but is no longer receiving services, saying the center cited a conflict of interest.
Laura Stuart, CARE’s coordinator of sexual health education and violence prevention, said the office recommends that students who sue the University seek advocacy services elsewhere because their records there may no longer be confidential.
“There are pros and cons to having survivor advocates who work for the University,” Stuart said. “This is one of the downsides.”
Ludlow’s academic path
Ludlow is a leading scholar in his field, a unique blend of philosophy and linguistics. He began teaching at NU in 2008 and has written extensively on hacktivism and digital culture. His next book will be released July 8.
Before NU, he taught at the University of Toronto Mississauga, the University of Michigan and Stony Brook University. Jason Stanley, now a philosophy professor at Yale University, worked closely with Ludlow while the two were at Stony Brook together. Stanley, then an undergraduate, said Ludlow was “remarkably generous” with his time.
“He was so willing to drop everything to work with me,” he told The Daily.
Ludlow made waves in the online world in 2003, when Electronic Arts, the owner of The Sims Online, terminated his account. He was banned from the game after publishing a virtual newspaper about the criminal underbelly of the game’s biggest city, reporting on theft and a teenage prostitution ring. Salon magazine dubbed him an “unabashed muckraker” fighting censorship by the Sims’ creators.
Meanwhile, Ludlow’s prominence led to him being offered the top spot at one of the nation’s best philosophy departments. In November, the philosophy blog Leiter Reports wrote Ludlow would serve as the next director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Brian Leiter, the blog’s creator and a philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, wrote in a February email to The Daily that Ludlow’s position at Rutgers was “not in doubt” at the time of his post.
Ludlow indicated he had accepted the job in a public Facebook post. “I read this on Leiter, so it must be true,” he wrote, linking to Leiter’s blog. Multiple Rutgers employees congratulated him on Facebook.
After the lawsuit was filed, Rutgers denied Ludlow had the job.
“This was not brought to our attention by either the candidate or his employer. We are looking into this matter thoroughly, including requesting all relevant information to fully evaluate his candidacy,” Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor told The Daily in a statement in February.
As of Friday, Rutgers had yet to make a decision on Ludlow’s candidacy. His attorneys did not follow up on requests for comment.
University spokesman Al Cubbage told The Daily that Ludlow will not teach classes Fall Quarter. Schedules for the rest of the 2014-15 academic year have not yet been finalized.
Taking a stand
Ludlow — and the Title IX lawsuit centered around his alleged assault — has spurred protests at NU and Rutgers.
Sociology Prof. Laura Beth Nielsen published an op-ed in The Daily the day after the suit was filed, calling for greater accountability from the University.
After publishing her column, Nielsen, the director of legal studies, said concerned faculty began reaching out to her. About 20 faculty members started a Change.org petition to the University’s Board of Trustees on Feb. 23, garnering more than 1,600 signatures.
The document calls for full implementation of Title IX and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. It also asks that any faculty member found in violation of the sexual misconduct policy be terminated and those findings be included in a staffer’s personnel file.
Associated Student Government passed a resolution several days later supporting the petition. The administration and students had their first direct confrontation March 4 with a sit-in and march along Sheridan Road. After, students began a series of meetings with Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, and Dean of Students Todd Adams. Administrators announced the cancellation of Ludlow’s Spring Quarter class on March 12.
NU also expressed an interest in working with a third-party consultant to evaluate policies on sexual misconduct, a step a White House task force has recommended for schools nationwide.
While students on both campuses await a decision about Ludlow’s future at Rutgers, activists at the New Jersey school are protesting as well, asking the university’s president to deny Ludlow the job and to change how the school hires new faculty members.
Although the case involving Ludlow was investigated by Slavin, survivors of student-on-student sexual assault can report their cases to the University through SAHAS. The complainant and responding student may reach an agreement through mediation with administrators or they may proceed to a hearing before a panel of five to seven students, faculty members and administrators. Each panel member must receive 12 hours of case training related to sexual assault.
Each side presents a five-minute opening statement and then receives an hour to call on witnesses and present evidence. The complainant and responding student then give a five-minute closing statement.
The panel deliberates, decides whether the respondent has violated University policy and moves into the sanctioning phase. During this time, each side may present information for the panel to consider in deciding the respondent’s punishment. Either side may also appeal the decision.
For one survivor of sexual assault, reporting the incident to the University proved frustrating and disappointing.
The Weinberg sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was sexually assaulted by another student in February 2013 while sleeping in her dorm room with her boyfriend, who was visiting from another college.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and there was another student in my bed, and he was touching me,” she said. “We asked him to leave, he wouldn’t leave and he put up a fight.”
Her residence’s community service officer identified the assailant as the boyfriend of another student who lived there. Her freshman adviser directed her to CARE, where she spoke with Eva Ball, coordinator of sexual violence response services and advocacy, and decided to report the assault to the University through SAHAS.
She said she chose SAHAS rather than reporting to the police because going to court would have been too stressful and time-intensive and Ball told her it would be easier to prove the assailant was guilty at NU because the evidence required by SAHAS is less concrete than in court.
The hearing was held in March 2013. The assailant was found to have violated the University’s sexual assault policy and put on deferred suspension, meaning if he violated any other conduct policies — including a no-contact agreement drawn up between him and the student — he would be suspended from NU for at least one quarter.
In hindsight, the student said, that wasn’t enough.
She said during the hearing’s sanctioning phase, she was allowed to “present what I think would be an appropriate punishment,” but she did not know what to say.
“That’s one of the things I wasn’t really happy with the school about,” she said. “I just wanted to know what is a realistic thing to expect, and what is a normal sanction, and no one could tell me. So I had no idea what to ask for.”
At the time, she didn’t feel comfortable asking for the assailant to be expelled, she said, and administrators did not properly advise her of standard punishments.
“Everyone in the school that I asked, Student Conduct, even Eva, I would say, ‘Is it too much for me to say that I think he shouldn’t go here anymore?’” she said. “And everyone would say, ‘Well, every situation’s different.’”
Immediately after the assault, University Police asked her if she wanted the assailant arrested, but she requested only that he be removed from the dorm.
“I just said, ‘I want him to leave for now,’ I didn’t want to make any big decisions,” she said. “I was panicked and I didn’t know what to do.”
Tara Sullivan, director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, told The Daily the punishment for sexual misconduct “really depends on the individual situation” because of the variety of acts covered under the policy. She could not comment on individual cases.
“We absolutely have the ability to go up to and through suspension and exclusion, and that’s always something that’s talked about by the board,” Sullivan said. “Their decision to use a suspension or exclusion is ruled by some individual factors of the specific case.”
Looking back, the student said she wishes she had “done something more severe” than SAHAS, such as reporting to police. She said the hearing was disorganized, and administrators did not act appropriately.
Witnesses during the hearing were not allowed to speak with her or the assailant. But she said the assailant’s mother, a character witness for him, approached her and pleaded with her not to get her son expelled.
“Everyone knew it was inappropriate but no one was saying anything until it was really severe, and she was in my face, and it should have been stopped much before,” she said. “No one really knew their place … which I also know is probably because there haven’t been that many hearings, so people actually didn’t know what to do. But they should.”
According to the Student Conduct website, only one SAHAS hearing occurred during the 2012-13 academic year.
The no-contact directive between the student and assailant, established after the hearing, stipulates that he cannot approach, communicate with or be in the same room as her. He is also forbidden from retaliating against her for reporting the assault.
But the student said her assailant violated the contract numerous times.
“We were both at this event, and he said he wasn’t going to leave unless I called the police because he doesn’t care,” she said.
In October 2013, she complained to Student Conduct her assailant had violated their contract. She hoped he would be removed from campus but encountered roadblocks with the reporting process.
“I was under the impression that it was an automatic ‘he gets kicked out for a quarter,’” she said. “I didn’t realize that I had to go through (University Hearing and Appeals System) and do a whole other trial.”
This time, the victim said, she was only a witness, and an administrator from Student Conduct presented the case to another panel. After many attempts to communicate with the administrator and receiving what she said were infrequent responses from him, the hearing was nearly rescheduled to Winter Quarter. It was eventually held the last day of Fall Quarter.
“It was just really disorganized, and obviously not a priority, that they could just push it off until the next quarter,” the student said.
She described the hearing as “awful” and “unprepared.” She said the administrator who presented the case neglected to take a witness statement for a friend’s testimony, “so it didn’t count for anything,” and the panel was later made aware the assailant lied at the hearing but did not do anything about it.
He was ultimately found not to have violated the contract, and the student said she chose not to appeal.
“The fact that I had even lost the hearing made me ridiculously upset,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to come back to school Winter Quarter. It didn’t make sense to me that they were aware he lied … and there was nothing they could do about it except have me go and re-appeal, and it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed that he would get kicked out still.”
Shaping the system
Questions about how NU handles sexual assault are nothing new.
Despite Title IX providing students with legal protection from sex-based discrimination starting in 1972, sexual violence remained a key campus issue. At least two different student groups created escort services in the 1970s to walk people home on weekend evenings. Prior to 1990, NU had a policy on sexual harassment but not on sexual assault.
The University addressed sexual assault directly in 1990, partially spurred by incidents that came to light that May. A Weinberg freshman was arrested twice in connection with sexual assaults on campus. He denied the charges but temporarily withdrew from NU.
In the same month, a Medill senior was arrested in connection with the off-campus sexual assault of a woman he was dating. The University later said there was not enough evidence to pursue disciplinary action, but the student went to court on a criminal sexual abuse charge.
Less than a week after students demanded more campus safety measures, the University released its first sexual assault policy on May 15, 1990. That fall, NU began requiring new students to attend a sexual assault education session.
In the fall of 1990, the University also debuted SAHAS. The disciplinary procedure, created specifically to deal with cases of student-on-student sexual assault, included a closed hearing before a panel of one administrator, one student and one faculty member.
Prior to the creation of SAHAS, the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution heard sexual assault cases through UHAS, which deals with all student conduct violations. No sexual assault case had ever been filed with the UHAS panel, its executive secretary told The Daily in May 1990.
In early 1991, NU hired a sexual assault coordinator. But conflict persisted between the administration and activists hoping for reform. Students continued to demand stricter measures, such as more specific sanctions in sexual assault cases. In October 1991, written messages on women’s bathroom walls began appearing, accusing one student of rape and urging women to “unite” against him.
Women’s Center director June Terpstra left NU in 1993, citing clashes with the administration. Later that year, UP was granted jurisdiction in investigating cases of sexual assault on campus to allow victims to be questioned as little as possible.
In 1994, NU barred attorneys from representing either students or the University in UHAS cases so students would not feel at a disadvantage. The change made UHAS more closely resemble SAHAS, which has never allowed lawyers.
In early 2000, SAHAS came under fire when the University handed a one-year suspension to a student whom the panel unanimously found to have sexually assaulted another student. He remained on campus and in his dorm while he appealed the decision, a process that took about six weeks, and the survivor came in contact with him during that time. Students in the assailant’s dorm were not notified he violated the sexual assault policy.
“That’s really disappointing, that they’re still not willing — in the year 2000 — to make a precedent by expelling someone for sexual assault,” the survivor told The Daily at the time.
Students demanded a SAHAS overhaul, including harsher punishments and a stricter selection process for panel members. A review committee of students, faculty and staff members formed in Spring Quarter 2000.
In January 2001, then-University President Henry Bienen approved the seven SAHAS changes recommended to him by the review committee, including considering drugs and alcohol an “aggravating factor” in sexual assault cases.
Administrators told The Daily at the time the changes strengthened SAHAS but the system itself did not need a complete overhaul. More than a decade later, that outlook has changed.
‘Our next step is process’
The University hopes to revise its practices this fall, considering the addition of a third-party investigator to look into student conduct complaints.
The Title IX Coordinating Committee was already considering this model when the White House recommended it in an April report about combatting college sexual assault, Slavin said. Sullivan said the investigator would be used in both SAHAS and UHAS proceedings.
One student, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Daily she chose not to go through SAHAS after she was sexually assaulted because she didn’t want to discuss the incident in front of her peers.
“Part of SAHAS is being in front of your peers and the other students and confronting the person,” the student said. “I think that really deterred me from doing that.”
Sullivan said unlike the current model, the change would allow an investigation to occur before the hearing rather than during it.
“That’s why it sometimes has a tendency to drag on for many, many hours,” she said.
NU has gathered feedback from ASG and student groups such as Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, Sullivan said. She said students have responded positively to the investigator model.
Sullivan said administrators may also allow students who report assaults to be in a different room from their assailant during the hearing.
The Student Conduct revisions will be the next step in a series of administrative actions that began last spring. The Title IX Coordinating Committee formed in April 2013, with administrators from several offices and departments. Slavin was also named Title IX Coordinator to ensure University practices comply with the law.
In January, the University released a new sexual misconduct policy, developed with the help of the Campus Coalition on Sexual Violence, which expanded the definition of consent and more strictly prohibited stalking and dating violence. Sullivan was hired that month as director of student conduct and conflict resolution to revise SAHAS and UHAS.
Administrators also plan to better publicize NU’s resources in the future.
“I think what we’ve been able to do relatively quickly is pull together the community and make some changes on policy,” Dean of Students Todd Adams said. “Our next step is process and that’s where the investigator would come in as a potential option.”
Sullivan said the University will spend much of the 2014-15 academic year encouraging students to come forward and report assaults to the revised Student Conduct system.
Faculty members at CARE also hope to expand their sexual assault-related services.
In February, CARE reapplied for a U.S. Department of Justice grant which supports universities’ sexual assault response and prevention programs. NU first received the $300,000 grant, which expires in September, almost three years ago and used some of the money to establish CARE.
Stuart said if NU receives the new grant, it will use some of the funds to investigate sexual violence issues relating to black and LGBTQ students. CARE would also hire a new full-time coordinator of men’s engagement.
A national movement
Title IX and the Clery Act govern universities’ responses to sexual assault. The two federal laws have given legal backing to activism against sexual assault nationwide.
In April 2011, the Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter clarifying Title IX’s requirements. Under the law, the letter said, universities are obligated to maintain safe environments for students to report their assaults, seek services and continue their education without interruption.
Colleges that do not comply with Title IX risk losing federal financial aid money. Students who believe their schools have not met Title IX’s requirements can file a complaint with the department’s Office for Civil Rights, which can lead to a federal investigation.
A slew of Title IX complaints have taken aim at colleges across the country.
Lena Sclove, a student on leave from Brown University, filed a complaint Thursday against her school. Brown found a student guilty in October of strangling and raping Sclove but reduced the assailant’s suspension time from two years to one, which includes the semester of the hearing.The assailant could have returned to campus this August, but has said he will not.
Twenty-three Columbia University and Barnard College students filed a complaint in April, claiming administrators were too lenient with students who were found guilty of sexual assault and did not accommodate survivors’ mental health issues. Weeks later, a list of names of students who had allegedly violated the school’s sexual assault policy began appearing on Columbia’s campus.
In October 2012, Angie Epifano, a former student at Amherst College, wrote a first-person account of her school’s lack of support after a fellow student raped her.
“He graduated with honors. I will not graduate from Amherst,” Epifano wrote in The Amherst Student. “The stories and statistics are miles long in regards to sexual assault on campus. My story is far from unique.”
The article went viral, prompting an NU student to come forward after she said she was pressured into taking medical leave following her rape.
“They took an already traumatized person and just made it exponentially worse,” Lauren Buxbaum, then a Weinberg senior, told The Daily in November 2012. “And then told me it was my choice whether to go on medical leave or not. But you’ve made it so that I am a broken person now.”
About a year after leaving Amherst, Epifano and an alumna filed a Title IX complaint against the school. Amherst is on the list of the 55 colleges under investigation for alleged Title IX violations, which the DOE released May 1. The list of colleges has since grown.
The list’s release came alongside a federal crackdown on college sexual assault. In January, President Barack Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
Wagatwe Wanjuki, a social media consultant for the student activism group Know Your IX, is one of eight organizers of ED ACT NOW, a campaign founded almost a year ago pushing the DOE to better enforce Title IX. Earlier this year, Wanjuki and other ED ACT NOW organizers met with the White House task force to discuss possible solutions.
“They actually reached out to us, and they said our petition was actually one of the biggest reasons why they decided to create this task force,” Wanjuki told The Daily.
The task force released its first report April 29. Among its recommendations are campus climate surveys about sexual assault at a school and bystander intervention training for campus community members to prevent sexual assault.
NU already has a bystander intervention program, and the University is considering sending out campus climate surveys.
Legislators, too, are tackling the issue. In April, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) sent a survey to 350 colleges and universities asking about their campus climates and handling of sexual assault. On May 19, McCaskill indicated she is considering alternative punishments for schools violating Title IX and the Clery Act besides the removal of financial aid money, such as higher fines for Clery Act violations.
‘No one has helped me’
Although activists nationwide are pushing for reform, any changes will come too late for students like the Medill junior suing NU and the Weinberg sophomore who went through SAHAS.
The sophomore said knowing her assailant remains at NU has impacted her life on campus. She looks around whenever she enters a room to see if he is there, and “it’s weird knowing that everyone in his frat hates me,” she said.
She said she would not recommend others attend NU because of her experience with SAHAS and administrators, who she said are “not looking out for the students.”
When asked if she feels safe on campus, she answered, “Yes and no.”
“I don’t think anything would happen to me realistically,” she said. “But if something did happen, I then wouldn’t feel safe. Now that I’ve dealt with literally everyone in Northwestern’s administration and no one has helped me in the past, I don’t think that they would help me in the future.”
Editor’s Note: Due to incorrect information from the graduate student’s attorney, a previous version of this story indicated that he would be alleging sexual assault. He will allege sexual harassment. The story has been updated.