University Of Nevada Reno Survivors of Sexual Assault Continue to Face Inadequate Policies

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions and real accounts of sexual violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment

On May 5th, 2018, flyers accusing a music student from the University of Nevada, Reno of being a “sexually violent predator” were found in bathrooms across campus. These flyers included information regarding the accused student’s “growing Title IX file with at least one reported case of rape and multiple cases of sexual harassment.” The flyer also warned students of his recent affiliation with Alpha Phi Alpha, a university affiliated fraternity. Since then, nearly a year later, the accused student remains enrolled at UNR. Meanwhile, his reported victims have reached out to student groups and organizers on campus to discuss how UNR’s lack of urgency and transparency regarding these ongoing investigations has made them feel neglected throughout the process; a potential example of deliberate indifference as defined by Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. Currently, UNR policy prioritizes the education of students who have been accused of sexual assault over the emotional and physical well-being of the reported victims. Despite valid no-contact orders from ongoing Title IX investigations, these survivors have been asked to attend classes alongside the accused student even though they have talked about how painful it is to be forced into such a hostile academic space.

In November, members of a student group on campus reached out to the national leadership of Alpha Phi Alpha, including their General President and Western Regional Vice President, about the allegations. This group voiced their concern that joining Alpha Phi Alpha gave the accused student an increased network of easily accessible women. The intent of this email was to allow Alpha Phi Alpha to demonstrate their commitment to combating rape culture, particularly in the midst of the #MeToo movement, by opening an investigation around this member’s actions and imposing sanctions — including removal from Alpha Phi Alpha. After engaging in email conversations with a member of the national leadership, during which the student group was told an internal investigation would occur, Alpha Phi Alpha abruptly ended all communication. The accused student is still an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha’s UNR chapter and it is unknown what measures — if any — were taken to investigate and address these allegations.

According to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, universities have a responsibility to address sexual harassment and/or sexual violence. More specifically, under Title IX a university can be held liable if sexual harassment involving students falls under the following conditions, “(i) a hostile environment exists in the school’s programs or activities, (ii) the school knows or should have known of the harassment, and (iii) the school fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.”

As it currently stands, members of several concerned student organizations on campus believe that the case involving this music student is just one of many examples that the University of Nevada, Reno has failed in its responsibility to address campus sexual harassment and sexual assault. The University of Nevada, Reno has only done the bare minimum in regards to creating and maintaining a policy addressing sexual harassment and Title IX, and has instead opted to put more focus on the ways in which accused students can protect themselves in the event of being summoned to a disciplinary hearing. UNR’s accuser-centered policy has allowed hostile environments to exist on campus in the form of weak no-contact orders which put unfair responsibility on the reported victims to remove themselves from attending school programs if they want to avoid interactions with the accused student. UNR also allows for unnecessarily long investigations, particularly investigations of repeat offenders, which prolongs the anxiety and trauma of the survivor. From the perspective of concerned UNR students, the current policy shows an ignorance on the part of University administration to the extent that sexual harassment and violence has affected students on campus.

We, the concerned students, find this unacceptable and are committed to Take Back The Pack. Since the rise of the #MeToo movement and the removal of TKE from campus, the University of Nevada, Reno has consistently remained silent about its role and responsibility in combating rape culture particularly on college campuses. The suspension of the fraternity is a temporary solution that does not combat the root causes of rape culture that are interwoven into the sexual misconduct policies of the university. This is why we, the students of Take Back The Pack, are demanding that the University of Nevada, Reno begin to explicitly combat rape culture through actionable policy reform which address deficiencies in the current policies, procedures, and resources regarding sexual assault. This includes reframing current policies through a survivor-centered approach and defining the specific sanctions that would be taken against a student or faculty member should victims choose to report.

Until there is major institutional policy change at UNR, reported victims will continue to suffer under the acceptable standard of a university which allows for repeat sexual assault offenders to remain on campus, seemingly without consequence. This is rape culture, and all forms of sexual misconduct are serious offenses that deserve more than weak no-contact orders and year long investigations with little to no regard placed on the emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing of reported victims.

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