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Former student files complaint against Goshen College

4.17. 2017 Written By: Gordon Houser, The Mennonite 6,209 Times read

Erin Bergen, a former student at Goshen (Indiana) College, has filed a complaint through Goshen’s federally mandated Title IX process. Last fall, she filed a report with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), claiming discrimination on the basis of sex. In December 2016, the OCR contacted Bergen to inform her that they would investigate her complaint against Goshen College.

In an April 12 post on the website Into Account, Bergen, who was sexually assaulted while a student, describes her experience in filing the complaint after seeing patterns during her two years as a Goshen student. Bergen writes that “a survivor’s story and experience are minimized” and that “when a survivor does come forward they are met with skepticism.”

According to the Clery Act, colleges must report statistics of crime on their campuses.* Nationally, 23.1 percent of all female undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation according to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization. Goshen, however, reported zeros on its Clery Act statistics from 2013-2015.

Bergen writes: “This does not reflect the actual number of sexual assaults that have occurred on campus. Students have brought forward concerns to the administration for years with little to no change taken by the powers that be.”

Furthermore, she writes, “the standard under Title IX is the preponderance of evidence, which means the incident in question is more likely than not to have occurred.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Bergen writes that she was asked to bring other survivors forward because without them the investigators did not feel they had the same responsibility to ensure my safety. “Because this went against my Title IX rights, the investigators asked me not to tell others I was asked to bring others forward,” she writes.

Both Bergen and Goshen College confirm that Bergen did file a complaint.

Bergen writes that “the investigators themselves described my process of reporting sexual assault as a ‘fishing expedition’ and a ‘witch hunt.’ Both of these claims belittled my experience, and made me lose faith in the only process that was at the time available to me by the school.”

Furthermore, she writes, “I was reassured that my name would not be used when talking about any of the aspects of my case with the other members of the Sexual Misconduct Response Team. Regardless of these reassurances, I was contacted about the investigation by a faculty member to whom I had not chosen to disclose my case.”

When asked for a response to Bergen’s post, Goshen College made the following statement: “Goshen College recognizes sexual assault and other gender­-based violence are far too common on all college campuses, and our campus is not and has not been immune to this destructive reality. We are sorry for any shortcomings in our structures and processes that have not supported survivors of sexual assault sufficiently, and are deeply committed to providing a safe and secure environment. We have implemented improvements to our sexual assault prevention, education, access and response over the past several years to be in line with new understandings about Title IX, and are continuing to proactively make changes to help better serve our students and implement appropriate solutions. But we are not done. Students, such as Erin, bravely speaking up and sharing their experience play an important role in helping bring about change. Obviously we cannot comment about any specific student case because of confidentiality and privacy. We can say that in regards to the current Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigation, we have already responded to the requests and are fully cooperating with the investigators. Where there are areas for improvement, we want to make changes to ensure that all sexual assault survivors are supported appropriately and treated with the utmost respect in the midst of what is always a difficult time.”

Stephanie Krehbiel, an advocate for Bergen and co-founder of IntoAccount, noted that part of this statement came from a 2016 statement Bergen herself helped write as a student activist for Functional Immediate Response Student Safety Team (FIRSST) at GC. Bergen says “it seems indicative of the overall pattern of students doing work that the administration appropriates for their own benefit that Goshen gave this statement to The Mennonite when asked to comment on my case.”

“Erin’s experience with the Goshen Title IX committee mirrors a larger pattern in Mennonite educational institutions, which is that people with conflicts of interest or inadequate training in sexual violence and harassment are serving in decision-making roles for which they are ill-suited and/or unqualified,” wrote Krehbiel in an April 17 statement. “Our colleges need to do better than merely providing their Title IX personnel with the minimum training necessary to comply with federal regulations. The real question to ask our college administrators is, are you interested in minimal compliance standards or are you interested in justice for victims of sexual violence?”

*The Clery Act requires all colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. The Goshen College Crime Report webpage states: “Violations of the GC policy against sexual misconduct occurred on- and off-campus. Offenses of the criminal definition of forcible and non-forcible sex offenses within property that GC owns or controls were not reported during the 2015 calendar year. Goshen College addresses incidents of misconduct involving students regardless of location. In 2016, GC implemented an online reporting mechanism to facilitate submission reports of sexual misconduct or racial misconduct.”

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