May 5, 2016: Tuesday hundreds of students demonstrated on the campus of La Sierra University (LSU), the Adventist institution in Riverside (California), and more than 600 individuals have signed a petition expressing concern about the handling of a case of alleged rape and sexual harassment. Dr. Donna L. Carlson, an alumna of LSU who served as a member of the board of trustees from 1990 to 1996, has circulated a letter expressing her concerns about the same topic.
Laws that protect the privacy of students, even those who may be guilty of misconduct, mean “the University is not permitted to provide any information regarding the case [and] is also prevented from correcting misinformation,” LSU officials told Adventist Today last week when an anonymous Email prompted an inquiry. Adventist colleges and universities have also been criticized by a very conservative, independent ministry for attempting to follow the United States law prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment known as “Title IX.”
Title IX refers to a section of Public Law 92-318 voted by the U.S. Congress in 1972 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in any educational institution where students are eligible for Federal government financial assistance. This includes student loans and grants which are part of student finances at all accredited colleges and universities in the nation. It requires that institutions take appropriate steps to protect students from sexual predators and sexual harassment.
Sources on campus have told Adventist Today a story similar to the allegations in the anonymous Email. In the fall of last year a young woman student accused another student, a boyfriend at the time, of rape and battery. An attorney with appropriate experience was brought in to investigate the accusations and it was discovered that over a period of three years the young man had been the focus of complaints from other women students and LSU officials had admonished him to change his behavior. He had continued to approach the young woman and taunt her, “creating a hostile environment” in legal terms.
The LSU Student Life Judicial Council evidently had some difficulty sorting out the stories given by the students as to what occurred between them. It recommended that the young man sign a promise that he would stop sexually harassing women on campus and for him to meet with the dean of students once a quarter. It also recommended that the young woman get counseling. There have been delays in the process with periods when no information was forthcoming to the students involved despite their concerns and appeals.
Sources have pointed out to Adventist Today that asking the young man to sign a statement of the kind recommended seemed like a lack of discipline because all students are required to sign a statement accepting precisely the same rule, among others, in the student handbook. The focus of the anonymous Email last week and of the petition and demonstration this week, as well as the letter from Carlson, is to ask why there has been so much delay in the adjudication of this case and why the response of the student life officials has been so weak compared to the serious nature of the accusations.
“It is not clear in this case whether or not Student Life accepted the disciplinary recommendations of the Title IX investigative team,” Carlson wrote. “Moreover, the University declines to enforce even the stated penalties (suspension or expulsion) of the simple ‘no contact’ order it issued to the male student months ago. … In direct violation of this order, the male student has approached the reporting student at campus events and regularly loiters around an area where the female student has to pass after her class.”
The statement that LSU gave to Adventist Today last week says the University “retained a former criminal prosecutor and veteran trial attorney with experience as a Title IX investigator to investigate the case. … The Student Life Judicial Council received and reviewed the investigatory findings and issued disciplinary sanctions. … The complainant filed an appeal [and] the appeal will be reviewed by the Student Life Committee and then by the Provost or his designee before a final determination is issued.”
After the demonstration and petition this week, yesterday (May 4) the University suspended the young man, according to sources on campus. Dr. Randall Wisbey, the president of LSU, met with concerned students yesterday and this evening there was a “Town Hall meeting” on the topic.
“Parents send their children to La Sierra University expecting they will be safer there than at institutions that do not share their religious values,” Carlson wrote. “They rely upon administrators to uphold higher-than-average standards of student conduct.” And, “women in the twenty-first century no longer suffer sexual aggression and harassment in silence, and … they have the right to expect protection and justice from their University.” She has degrees both as a medical doctor and an attorney, as well as in public health.
The critique published by Fulcrum 7, a very conservative, independent group of Adventists who do not live in California, has a different focus. It appears to be concerned that if Adventist colleges and universities adhere to the Federal law against gender discrimination they may be forced to ignore the denomination’s teachings on homosexuality.