Inappropriate touching, lewd comments, intimidation: Sarah Hansen’s allegations sound like textbook harassment.
But when Hansen lodged a formal complaint to the University of Oregon’s Title IX office, they didn’t agree. Or at least the office didn’t find the allegations serious enough to take any major disciplinary action against the man who she says harassed her.
The claims were passed among various people and university offices at the UO as Hansen navigated a complex process, all while hearing similar complaints from other students and continually dealing with her alleged harasser. She says she wishes the school had handled her case better.
Hansen, 34, was a geology student at UO. She finished classes this past summer term. Her original graduation date was delayed due to dealings with her alleged perpetrator, an older, non-traditional male student. She says she had multiple classes with the man, but had not interacted with him until the beginning of winter term in January 2018.
Hansen says she dealt with the male student’s alleged harassment for about five months before he finally stopped making contact with her.
She lodged a complaint against the student with UO’s Title IX office in February and met with a Title IX investigator to explain her situation.
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination and exclusion in education, or any federally funded activity, based on sex or gender.
Hansen alleges the male student made unwanted physical contact with her, such as pressing his torso and his backside against her multiple times, in classroom and lab environments, and grabbing books and lab equipment out of her hands without her permission.
He also allegedly made sexually suggestive comments towards her, for example showing up uninvited at an after hours study session and asking, “Shall I dim the lights and lock the doors?” She says he also intimidated her by forcefully bumping into her.
EW spoke with an instructor at UO, who is a friend of Hansen’s, who corroborates Hansen’s dealings with her alleged harasser.
Hansen says the Title IX investigator told her that her complaint wouldn’t be handled by Title IX but instead by the Office of Student Conduct. “I was told my complaint didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment and it was a student conduct grievance, not Title IX,” she says.
“The basic litmus test is that reports of behavior by students are directed to Student Conduct,” UO Senior Director of Public Affairs Communications Tobin Klinger says. “All offices ultimately have connections back to the Title IX Office for review of any reports involving sex or gender related conduct.”
The UO created the associate vice-president and Title IX coordinator position in 2015, according to the school’s annual Title IX report. Before that, the Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity director served as the Title IX coordinator.
According to the UO’s Title IX webpage, the school is “consolidating its Title IX and Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity offices under a newly formed Office of Investigations and Civil Rights Compliance.”
Though the Title IX office did not deal with Hansen’s case solely and specifically, Klinger says there are many employees with “Title IX roles” housed in various areas of the university.
In March, Hansen received an email from the Office of Student Conduct saying the school would not be charging the man at all.
“Based on an initial assessment of the information received, we have determined that we will not be issuing charges of potential violations of the University of Oregon Student Conduct Code at this time,” Sandy Weintraub, former UO director of student conduct and community standards, writes in an email to Hansen. “This is because the allegations, taken as true, would not at this point rise to the level of a conduct code or policy violation.”
The email continues by stating that although the school will not be issuing disciplinary action (this can take the form of suspension, expulsion and other institutional punishments), Weintraub writes, “In my position as the Director of Student Conduct, I will be asking [the accused male student] to meet with him so that the University can make clear its expectations, clarify our policies and provide notice to [him] that his behavior, if continued or escalated, could lead to a conduct code violation.”
The male student did not meet with the current director of Student Conduct or the Title IX coordinator until almost two months later, Hansen says.
Hansen says she was not given a direct reason from the school as to why her case was not seen as violating the Student Conduct Code.
EW made multiple attempts to reach out to the male student but received no response before press time. Since the male student was not charged or convicted, EW is not naming him.
Klinger says he could not go into the specifics of Hansen’s case, but rather described to EW via email the school’s general process in dealing with complaints of this nature.
He says, in most cases, that within three business days of receiving a sexual misconduct claim, the director of Student Conduct and the Title IX coordinator will consult and determine whether the complaint would violate the Student Conduct Code, and if the school has jurisdiction over the claim.
“If the conduct would not violate the Student Conduct Code or university policy, then the incident would instead be assessed for alternative methods of follow up including training, education opportunities, mediation, facilitated conversations and other mechanisms,” Klinger says.
Hansen’s situation, however, would seem to indicate a violation of the Student Conduct Code.
In section 16 of UO’s Student Conduct Code, harassment is defined as: “Intentionally subjecting a person to offensive physical contact,” abusive words or insults and sexual harassment in the form of gendered harassment such as physical harassment or “discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.”
After hearing that the alleged perpetrator would not be charged, Hansen arranged a mutual “no-contact directive” through the school. Nonetheless, she says, the male student violated that order multiple times by choosing to continuously sit next to and interact with her in class.
Hansen says she made a complaint to the UO Police Department and talked with an officer about her situation, but nothing immediately came of it.
Hansen says she contacted the UOPD around the second week of April.
“They pulled me out of my Earth Physics class to discuss the situation and the terms of the no contact order which were being violated, and the officer left without attempting to contact [the male student], though he was right there in the class at the time,” she says.
“In short, the administrative no-contact directives are not a police-enforced legal document like a court-issued restraining order,” says Kelly McIver, UOPD public information officer.
Klinger adds: “If a person notified UOPD of an alleged violation of a No Contact Directive, UOPD would normally take the information and forward it to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards for further investigation and possible disciplinary follow-up.”
Hansen says that the male student finally ceased contact with her after he met with the Title IX coordinator in early May.
Throughout dealing with the alleged harassment, Hansen says the school’s process was extremely disorganized.
In March, shortly after the decision not to charge, Hansen’s case was passed from Weintraub, the former director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, to Katy Larkin, the associate director, when Weintraub left his position.
This personnel change was not disclosed to Hansen until she tried to get back in touch with Weintraub and was directed to Larkin.
“I had to retell the story a bunch of times, and so many details got mixed up” as a result of her case being passed around, Hansen says.
Along with her sexual harassment claim, Hansen says another official complaint was made against the same male student in regard to verbal harassment and racially charged comments.
“There was one other young lady who made a complaint,” Hansen says. The woman was another peer in her class who talked with Hansen about the male student making racist and sexist remarks. The woman decided to go the route of informal proceedings, choosing to remain anonymous and not pursue any charges, Hansen says.
“The other people I spoke to [in class], they all had similar types of experiences with his harassment,” Hansen says. “The non-white students, some maybe Saudi Arabian, others from Asian cultures, they’ve told me that they’ve heard him be racist towards them.”
Because the male student is an older non-traditional student, Hansen says, there have been various excuses made for his behavior.
“He’s openly sexist against women and he’s said inappropriate sexually charged things to even other female GTFs [graduate teaching fellows] and staff members, but the attitude is that’s just who he is,” Hansen says. “That’s why he hadn’t been reported.”
Hansen says there was one positive aspect with how the school handled her complaint. The school’s Crisis Intervention and Sexual Violence Support Services assigned her a counselor as well as refunded the tuition fee for one of the classes she had failed due to stress from her case.
“Due to the harassment, all the meetings and the amount of stress I was suffering from, I didn’t pass a required course,” Hansen says. “I told them I didn’t have any financial aid left and I would be unable to pay for the class I had to take again so I could graduate.”
Hansen says she talked with Lori Dunnihoo, her crisis support counselor. She told Dunnihoo, “I was not protected by the school, and I felt it was the school’s responsibility to pay for the class I failed.”
Dunnihoo “put in the request and told me they have a special fund for situations like this, and a few weeks later it was approved and they gave me the funds for the class,” Hansen says.
EW attempted to contact Dunnihoo, but received no response before press time.
UO’s Crisis Intervention and Sexual Violence Support Services offers financial aid accommodations, academic accommodations, legal support and other types of accommodations to those in the university committee, according to its webpage.
Other than this, Hansen says she just wishes the school had handled her complaint differently.
“I would have liked the school to have acted with more urgency,” she says. “It was months before the school actually sat down with [the male student] in a formal setting.”
She adds: “I just wanted the school to actually do what I was told they would and enforce the no contact order and keep me safe. They failed.”