BY ERIK PILLAR | April 27, 2016
Last fall, Edgewood College student Amanda Conder filed a sexual assault claim to Edgewood College’s Judicial Board claiming that she was raped by another Edgewood student in an apartment off campus. In late February, the Board ruled in favor of her accused attacker. The ruling sparked a campus protest that was covered by three major Madison news networks, and began a discussion among the student body and faculty about the fairness of Edgewood’s Judicial Board process.
Since that protest, another student who wished to remain anonymous and will be known as “Jenna” throughout the rest of this article, has come forward to OTE NEWS for an exclusive interview about her alleged rape in the summer of 2012 by an Edgewood student and her experience with the Judicial Board as well.
Neither Conder or Jenna were willing to identify their alleged attackers because they both feared lawsuits by their alleged attackers for defamation of character. “My attacker dragged my name through the mud so much already that I don’t want to give his name. With things like defamation being thrown about, it’s hard to handle,” Jenna said.
Conder and Jenna were both student leaders at Edgewood. Conder was an RA, and Jenna worked closely with people in leadership positions, including the Office of the Dean of Students. Both students entrusted their cases to Edgewood’s Judicial Board, rather than filing a report about their alleged attacks with the Madison police department. Both students left the process feeling angry, mistreated, and hurt by Edgewood.
In Conder’s case, she reports that she knew her attacker and that “I had been hanging out with this guy for two weeks and I had started to like and trust him. He was into the party scene, always drinking and smoking weed. I was not and never have been, and I had never smoked weed before. He always made me feel lame and out of place for that.” Conder proceeded to travel to her alleged attacker’s home, and she reports having had half a beer and having smoked a little marijuana. “The night I was raped, I drank half a beer and smoked weed from a bong. I did not even know how to do it, and he had to light it for me each time. After being on his porch for a while, we went upstairs to his room and smoked a little more. Suddenly, I couldn’t see straight or hear anything. I remember his lips moving, but I could not hear or process what he was saying. Then, I passed out on his bed.”
After losing consciousness, Conder awoke to having apparently been sexual assaulted. She says that it was the first time that she had sex. “After he woke me, I walked home, took a shower, and cried. I was extremely worried that I had become pregnant, or that I had an STD as a condom was not used – to my knowledge.”
Jenna reported a situation similar to Conder’s story. The attack allegedly took place off campus at a private residence. That night she went to the hospital to be tested, and the next day she reported the alleged assault to Edgewood.
When asked about these two assaults specifically, Edgewood College President Dr. Scott Flanagan said, “I cannot comment about them, and I cannot disclose information about them.” Binding Flanagan from speaking is partly personal considerations of confidentiality, but also the Federal Government laws on FERPA: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA legally prevents educational institutions from disclosing any information that could be considered an education record, and Judicial Board procedures fall into this category. More information on FERPA can be found in an article written by OTE NEWS – Bound to Silence: Why Edgewood College Officials Can’t Tell You More About Sexual Assaults.
Where Conder and Jenna find most common ground is in their experience with Edgewood officials and the Judicial Board. Conder filed her case in the fall of 2015, and the decision was pushed back several times. Her alleged attacker hired a lawyer, whereas Conder was only given an advocate by the college, and she says that her alleged attacker’s lawyer was given access to her statements and even had sway over pushing back the ruling on at least one occasion. Conder was told that the lawyer was no longer going to be present as the family of the accused believed that ‘Edgewood was doing a good job.’ But, she later found out that the lawyer had been present at her alleged attacker’s hearing after she had been told that he would not be there by Edgewood officials.
“The board did not seem very trained at all. I won’t give names of the members, but there were two female professors and one male athletic faculty on it. The questions they asked me seemed to be more toward making sure I was lying instead of finding out if the rapist was guilty,” Conder said. “They even asked me to explain to them why they should believe that it [the alleged attack] actually happened and that I was not just making it up to get back at the rapist for being mean to me.”
OTE NEWS will publish soon a new article detailing the specifics of Edgewood’s current Judicial Board training requirements, which are administered by the Madison Rape Crisis Center.
Responding to student protest over the Judicial Board system, Flanagan announced yesterday via email that a task force has been formed to review and possibly recommend changes to the process. The task force will be chaired by Dr. Tony Chambers, the Vice President for Student Affairs, and will include the following students and faculty: Maricia Ash (Student), Steve Bullock (Assistant Director for Student Leadership), Kari Gribble (Director of Edgewood Central and Financial Aid), Connor Haarklau (Student), Ashley Holland (Faculty), Pam LaValliere (Director of Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator), Megan Lyenis (Student), and Donna Vukelich-Selva (Faculty).
The taskforce will seek to complete their review during the end of the semester, allowing for possible changes to be put into effect during the summer months. The results of the review will be examined by an unnamed independent professional, and the task force is expected to consult with “issue-specific” experts as needed.
Further shaking Conder’s faith in Edgewood College was an incident reported to her by a friend about comments one of the professors on her Judicial Board made in a public hallway loud enough to be overheard by passing students. “After reading the case, I called my son and told him to not have sex with a girl when she’s drunk because she would turn around and say it was rape,” the professor allegedly said.
Conder said that despite this breech of confidence, she holds no ill will toward this professor. Conder views the incident as an example of how poorly they were trained. “If someone was thoroughly trained, they would already know what rape was, they would take the case more seriously, and they should have already spoken to their son about the topic before,” Conder said. “And I was not drunk.”
Flanagan responded to Conder’s claim with “I cannot weigh in on this comment itself, but I believe it is appropriate for students to expect that their confidentiality is held. That the case was being talked about in whatever form in this context is not appropriate,” Flanagan said. “We want people [serving on Judicial Boards] who are well trained in handling these difficult situations effectively, and are not coming in with a bias one way or the other. It is hard to find anyone without some biases, but the best we can do is educate people about them.”
Conder claims an Edgewood official involved in the Judicial Board process talked her out of filing the incident with the Madison police. “While Edgewood did not tell me specifically to not go to the police, they told me that these cases don’t do well in courts and that there would be a very slim chance of him being found guilty,” Conder said. “As someone who is unaware of how these cases do in courts, that statement alone discouraged me from going to the police. I don’t think anyone should discourage victims from going to the police. It promotes the culture of staying silent about rape.”
When asked about Conder’s claim, Flanagan said, “Our policy at Edgewood is clear. We encourage folks to pursue legal charges if that is something they are inclined to do. I don’t know about one of our staff commenting on the success of a case, but I can understand why from a student perspective that [such a comment] can seem unsupportive,” Flanagan said. “Our policy is in place for a reason. Whether or not a student wants to bring something forward [to the police], we at Edgewood should offer to be of whatever assistance we can be in doing it. I would not view it as the role of anybody at the college to weigh in on the relative chances of something being successful or not [in the courts].”
When Jenna reported her alleged assault, she was assigned an advocate, as was her alleged attacker, but no lawyers were present in that situation. “I talked to a board of three people, who all knew me very personally. It was weird for me to have to give such personal details about what had happened to me to people I interacted with almost every day on campus. I was very uncomfortable and I remember thinking ‘are these the people I should be telling this to?’, but I trusted the system,” Jenna said. “I think Edgewood needs to have an independent person on the board. It seems really inappropriate to be handling this with people you know and work with every day. Because of this, the rest of my senior year I was looked at differently. The people who were on my board, that I worked with all the time, looked at me with pity eyes. I could not wait to get out of there soon enough.”
Jenna graduated from Edgewood and has avoided campus ever since. Conder is leaving Edgewood early due to her treatment here. “I have to see my attacker around campus and it gives me very bad anxiety all of the time. I had to drop a class because of him being in it, and I am not getting credit for the course. It’s going to show up as a W on my transcript,” Conder said. “I don’t feel supported by the institution. Edgewood used to feel like a home to me, and I thought it was a place that I belonged. The way I was treated by the judicial system makes it hard to feel like this is home anymore.”
Conder’s alleged attacker was found not guilty and no appeal was made by Conder to counter. In Jenna’s case, her alleged attacker was initially found guilty and was expelled. However, he filed an appeal and one day later had his sentence lessened to a one-year academic suspension due to a “lack of evidence.” Feeling that Edgewood had failed her, Jenna then went to the Madison police and the District Attorney with her case. She was told that there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed with an investigation.
Both women were survivors of alleged sexual assaults while at Edgewood College, and both believe that the administration failed them. “I learned the real side of Edgewood. I drank the Kool-Aid as a student leader and I loved Edgewood, and I assumed the people in charge at the time would have my back. That was not the case,” Jenna said. “I loved Edgewood. It hurt me more to be mistreated by them than the actual assault did. The lack of respect and [not] feeling like people cared about me was too much. They [Edgewood] did not have my back when they should have.”
“You need to check the values that you preach, Edgewood,” Jenna said. “And, you need to walk the walk. When a student is in crisis, you need to make them feel safe and help them. This student is a member of your college, a member of your family. You need to not worry about how many numbers of rape you report. You need to worry about doing everything you can for your family.”
Jenna and Conder’s cases are not a rare occurrence across the nation’s college campuses. According to a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities, 11.7 percent of all students across 27 universities reported having been subject to nonconsensual sexual contact since they enrolled in college. Twenty-three percent of the total undergraduate females surveyed for the study claimed to have been sexually assault. The study also found that only 5 percent to 28 percent of sexually assaulted individuals reported their assaults to campus officials, law enforcement, or others depending on the nature of the assault.
Today at noon in the Nona McGreal room, Conder and other survivors of alleged sexual assaults will be holding a sexual assault survivor panel for the Edgewood community. Conder says that “any all are welcome to attend and ask questions.”
The panel is being hosted by Edgewood College, and organized by members of Paving Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE) and seeks to provide a “safe space to build trust, caring, and compassion,” said PAVE President Saiya Yanagihashi. “I believe we all need to be held responsible for being knowledgeable, compassionate, and active members of a community. Attending this event would be a fantastic learning and healing time for anyone in the Edgewood community.”