Broken Record: Student survivor navigates painful reporting process

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 - 12:42am

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Roseanne Chao/Daily

A University of Michigan student reported being sexually assaulted by her Graduate Student Instructor this summer in June. She filed the report, met with a U-M Title IX investigator and submitted evidence to back up her claim months ago. But the University’s investigation of the student’s case has been ongoing for almost four months now — and she’s running out of patience.

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior — who will be referred to as Taylor in this article — said her relationship with her GSI began in the middle of her junior year. The GSI is a doctoral student studying conducting under Prof. Michael Haithcock. He teaches band classes and is a GSI for the Michigan Marching Band.

For a while, the relationship was consensual. But the student said her GSI became increasingly aggressive during their time together. At the end of their relationship, she said, he sexually assaulted her.

That GSI did not respond to an email request for an interview.

After reporting the incident to the Office of Institutional Equity this summer, Taylor says she feels like her mental health and professional future is not being considered by the University.

Much has been said about biases in the University’s sexual misconduct reporting process against accused students. An investigation of this student’s case by The Michigan Daily reaffirms the tired runaround students and faculty still face when it comes to reporting concerns to their safety and well-being.

***

Taylor’s story begins this February when she added her GSI on Facebook. He was her GSI for concert band and immediately started messaging her.

Taylor didn’t think anything of the conversation at first, as close relationships between faculty and students in SMTD are common between long hours practicing, traveling together and a smaller, tight-knit academic community.

The GSI first made physical contact with Taylor on an SMTD band trip, touching Taylor’s legs and kissing her multiple times — without her consent. Afterward, she messaged him expressing she felt his conduct was inappropriate. The Daily reviewed screenshots of these texts provided by Taylor. They then didn’t talk until after spring break. Though he was still her conductor, Taylor said he seemed to purposely avoid her.

But then he approached her again, informing her that he registered a relationship with her. Faculty members and teaching staff to are required to register relationships with students, but The Daily was not able to confirm the GSI filed such a record due to privacy laws.

So they began dating. Despite some of his unsettling practices, Taylor was flattered. The GSI was, after all, extremely well-liked among students and faculty.

“I was like, oh my god, like he’s paying attention to me and he’s like, everyone loves him,” she said. “So I was like, wow, I must be really special.”

He did not acknowledge her in public, she said, and the two did not go on dates. Texts detail few people knew about their contact.

The GSI: Nope!! I had many problems like that.
I worked in 4 different places so far and in the beginning something like that always happened. But now I know and I can avoid it.
Let’s be careful
At school we just say “hi” for a while.

Taylor: Yes I know we should be careful. I don’t have to talk to you at school at all not even hi.

Taylor mentioned she heard from other students the GSI had been accused of harassment at previous schools. The Daily filed a federal information request to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the institution he worked at immediately prior to coming to Michigan, but there were no Title IX complaints with his name on it.

Taylor said after those text messages, he started becoming aggressive. He began to accuse Taylor of cheating on him, which she denies. In the texts shared with The Daily, he repeatedly accused her of going to bars and having sex with other men, and that it was a well-known fact in the music community. Throughout the texts, Taylor protested his accusations, which he glossed over every time.

He replied: “Learn a lesson...you can regret about things you’ve done but the past is always part of what you are today.”

“Sometimes I still question, like, did (the harassment and assault) really happen?” she said. “Because I, for most of the relationship, did anything he wanted. I did whatever, just to make him like me because I thought he was like an important person in the music world — and making connections and networking is so important.’”

***

The GSI first assaulted Taylor in April. 

She was bleeding heavily afterward, and continued to bleed for days after the encounter. She texted a friend in a panic. She went to an OB-GYN, who later confirmed to The Daily Taylor visited his office and reported the assault.

She attempted to pass it off as a menstrual period to her GSI and her family. However, Taylor does not get her periods regularly and the bleeding became the biggest red flag of a potentially violent experience to her mother.

She went to pick the GSI up from the airport on June 4. When they went back to her place, Taylor said, he sexually assaulted her.

Taylor’s mother then reported the incident to the University.

Now, it’s October. Taylor’s evidence is in, and her statements have been collected. But she still doesn’t have a verdict in her case. And she has no idea when she might receive one.

***

According to the University’s student sexual misconduct policy, here’s what should have happened when Taylor’s mother first reported the incident to the Office of Institutional Equity on June 20, 2018:

Once a situation is reported to OIE, the Title IX coordinator makes an initial assessment of the report and ensures the claimant receives a written explanation of resources and options available to them.

After the initial assessment, a coordinator will decide whether to investigate the case, and move toward a formal resolution, or whether to move directly into finding alternative resolutions and additional remedies. The claimant’s wishes, the evidence and the code of conduct all play a part in the decision.

If the coordinator decides the case should be investigated, they’ll assign an investigator, usually a member of the Title IX staff, to the file. The investigator meets with the claimant, the respondent (the alleged abuser) and any relevant witnesses on separate occasions to offer them the opportunity to present information and evidence. During these meetings, the policy dictates both the claimant and the respondent can have an “adviser” of their choice — that’s code for a lawyer.

According to the policy, the University tries to complete every investigation within 60 days, though it acknowledges extenuating circumstances might lengthen the timeline. Regardless of the length, the policy stipulates both parties will be updated regularly.

After the interviews have been conducted and the evidence collected, the investigator will write what’s called a “preliminary investigation report” that includes all the known information. Both parties can review the draft report, and they have five days to submit comments.

But in practice, the process isn’t so regimented.

After Taylor’s mother called OIE, the investigation officially commenced on June 20. Taylor said she immediately requested a no-contact order, which meant neither she nor her GSI could initiate any kind of contact with each other — not in person, over text or on social media.  

As per the U-M policy, OIE senior investigator Daniel Ferency was assigned to be the investigator in the case. Taylor said Ferency reached out to her to ask if she wanted to give a statement. They exchanged emails to find a time to meet, and like the policy mandates, Ferency alerted Taylor to support resources on campus she could access if she wanted. He also said she had the right to bring a lawyer or any other support person to their meeting.

When she got to the meeting, though, Taylor was caught off-guard. A note-taker was present at the meeting, taking down her comments while Ferency questioned her on her experience. She said she wasn’t given any warning there would be a stranger in the room.

Shortly after the meeting with Ferency, she left for a summer study abroad trip. It was taking a while for her medical records to be submitted to Ferency as evidence, and she emailed him about it on June 27 to remind him she was still working on getting them to him.

“You should look out for your statement either tomorrow or Friday,” he replied to her via email that same day.

However, Taylor didn’t hear anything else from Ferency until July 16 — over three weeks after he said he would pass along her statement for review.

“When we met on June 19, 2018, I mentioned that the next step in the OIE process would be for me to send you a summary of your interview statement for your review,” Ferency wrote in his email. “A copy of the summary is attached. As we discussed, you are not required to review this summary.  If you choose to review it, it can be helpful to have a support person present … If you decide to review this summary, the deadline to provide any comments or suggestions you may have is July 18, 2018. If I don't hear from you by July 18, 2018, I will assume you approve of the statement as drafted, and will move forward with the review.”

During this process, Taylor was out of the country, in another time zone, without anyone who could be an effective “support person” for her.

Taylor said she found 15 mistakes in the report and sent her corrections to the investigator. Eventually, Ferency did grant her extra time to make corrections, and she turned in her revised copy of the statement as soon as she was able.

The next time she heard from Ferency was at the end of August,  just after the 60-day mark, when she shared him on a Google document containing screenshots of her text messages with her GSI.

Shortly after, the school year started. Taylor, who is studying music performance, had to audition for different ensemble classes. One of them is a required two-credit class. To her horror, she was placed in the same GSI’s band class.

After a back and forth with OIE and SMTD administrators, it was determined Taylor could get a waiver for the performance class, which meant she wouldn’t need to fulfill that graduation requirement. She said it was a devastating solution.

“That’s six hours a week of rehearsal,” she added. “That’s four or five concerts in a semester. That’s opportunity to perform your pieces, work with current composers, to go play other schools. I’m losing all of that while he gets to keep that and they don’t see anything wrong with it. (This is) my only option.”

According to Taylor, there are other orchestras or bands that need extra players, but she hasn’t been asked to participate.

“Instead of asking me, they’re asking other students that are also not in orchestra but I don't know why they’re not asking me because I have nothing,” she said. “Those students are in band or something ... The guy who is head of bands here is, like, best friends with him and he has made it very clear that he does not like me and does not support me.”

The director of bands is Music prof. Michael Haithcock — the GSI’s direct supervisor. The Daily reached out to Haithcock for a comment. He declined to comment via email, and said he hoped the GSI would sue The Daily “if he is found innocent.”   

***

The waiver meant Taylor and her GSI would no longer have to be in the same classroom. But she still had other classes in the music school, so she ran into him around the building.

She recalled changing her shoes in her car one morning before class. While she was sitting in the car, he pulled up right next to her and sat there staring for long enough that Taylor became uncomfortable.

“I was pretty freaked out so I called [SMTD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer Freyja Harris] … she found me in my car and she actually walked me all the way to a practice room,” Taylor said.

She also had a piano class in the basement of the music school, and said the GSI would sit outside her class for two weeks.

“I told (SMTD) Dean (Mark) Clague and I know that Dean Clague had to say something to him more than once,” Taylor said. “But eventually he stopped.”

Throughout these experiences at the beginning of this school year, she was not in regular communication with Ferency or anyone from OIE. She and Ferency exchanged emails on Sept. 5, and he gave her directions on how to enable her lawyer to release medical forms on her behalf. But Taylor still had a lot of questions about how her case was being handled, and no one was offering her answers.

She finally turned to SMTD administrators and informed them of the situation. They were upset to find OIE had given administrators essentially zero information on the situation going into the school year.

Taylor said once she and her mom got Clague up to speed, they found him to be very helpful. However, he could only do so much, and by mid-September, the lack of communication and the drawn-out process finally prompted her to request a different investigator. On September 18, Ferency emailed the student to let her know her case had been transferred to another OIE senior investigator, Suzanne Quinn McFadden. The student was hopeful that things would speed up. Instead, it was more of the same. She didn’t hear anything from McFadden until Oct. 5.

“I am writing to let you know that I am now working on your investigation with OIE as your case was recently transferred to me,” McFadden wrote in an email on Oct. 5. “I just wanted to check-in with you and offer an update. I am currently drafting the preliminary report which will be sent to you shortly.”

There was no follow-up to let the student know what, exactly, McFadden meant by “shortly.” At the time of publication of this article, the student still has not received the preliminary report.

“I don’t know. It’s been a while and I just haven’t seen it,” she said. “I haven’t even seen his statement, which like, it started in June — we should at least have each other’s statements by now.”

On Oct. 12, Elizabeth Seney, deputy Title IX Coordinator for Investigations, emailed the student to tell her the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s recent decision, which determined that public universities have to give accused students the opportunity to cross-examine the accuser and witnesses at an in-person hearing, will apply to her case.

According to an email interview with Jeffery Frumkin, the new interim Title IX coordinator and senior director of OIE, the University is still developing the process for these hearings. But this likely means this particular investigation will continue to be drawn out.

Taylor is wary of what this process will look like.

“I don't trust any process coming from this school,” she said. “I don't want to do ‘the cross-examination.’ But I also don't want him to get away free.”

SMTD is also becoming a hostile environment for Taylor. She said one of her professors dismissed her sexual assault claims during class when she was absent during the first few weeks of the fall semester.

But she did have some positive interactions with faculty. She confided in her private music teacher about her situation and also felt like she had strong contact with Clague. Clague referred The Daily to Public Affairs when reached for comment.

She is sometimes escorted from her car and to classes by Harris, SMTD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer, who Taylor said was also a comforting figure in the administration.  

Harris is unable to comment on specific investigations due to FERPA rules. She explained to The Daily, however, that while her role rapidly is becoming a support system for SMTD students and faculty, she needs to remind them that she is not always the point person to go to because she does not investigate claims.

“In order to be able to support someone in my ongoing role, I need to let them know who is the right person to share to,” she said. “I don’t want to muddy the water — I want to support them. So, it’s what I tell them up front — you can tell me anything but I am not going to be the one to take you to the rest of the process. It depends on the situation. I am trying not to create issues (for the students) in their process.”

Harris also acknowledged students may feel like they are not seeing a quicker turnaround to their reports — she said there is often a behind-the-scenes process that happens, and students aren’t privy to details in order to ensure investigations remain confidential. In these times, she attempts to provide guidance to students to help them focus on their studies and mental health.

“It is a lot of not knowing for a little while,” she said. “It is different from a legal system. It’s different from reporting a crime, where you have a lot more involvement and you are made aware of every space of the process. Because when they start internally, it’s just handled differently — I am not aware of the history or why that policy is developed that way. I think it might be because it is meant to encourage reporting because it provides a level of confidentiality until there is a decision that is made. Because people knew that when they report (it to the police) goes public.”

Taylor confided many of her worries to another former SMTD student, who is now studying in the Rackham Graduate School. The Rackham student, who also requested to remain anonymous due to academic concerns, corroborated many of Taylor’s claims about the GSI’s behavior. The Rackham student went to Harris before Taylor,  who she said was not aware of the situation.

The Rackham student supported Taylor’s claims, alluding to other cases where fellow female students had faced similar situations in the Michigan marching band and went to the administration with little change. The Rackham student said she reached out to Taylor to offer her support after hearing about her situation through a mutual friend. She said she also helped Taylor get in touch with Clague.

“My main concern is, one: how is he still an instructor to everyone involved in the band community, and two; it looks like nothing has been done to resolve this,” she said.

The Rackham student said Ferency reached out to her multiple times, since he had heard of other past instances where the GSI has been inappropriate with students. She said he asked for names — something she did not feel comfortable divulging.

“I said, ‘They do not want to be disclosed and that’s their choice,’” she said, despite Ferency’s insistence.

This contact can be confirmed through emails shared with The Daily. Ferency reached out to the Rackham student on Aug. 30. Ferency, according to the Rackham student, was attempting to bring together a number of claims against the GSI.

“Yeah, it might add credibility, but you have hardcore like physical text messages that are inappropriate whether or not you believe that she was sexually assaulted, which is a whole other problem that you have,” the Rackham student said.

***

Reports of sexual assault on campus and on the national level reveal the barriers to reporting abuse in any situation. But the music world in particular is built on connections and mentorship that often includes intense rehearsals  and long travel. A musician’s reputation can go around quickly in a small field.

“It’s a little more subjective because in, like, in LSA or, like School of Engineering, like you’re scored on a grade, like you, you turned in an exam … But with music it’s more like what your professor thinks of you, what your GSI thinks of you,” the Rackham student said.

This past summer, Samuel Schultz, a New York-based baritone singer, accused SMTD professor David Daniels and Daniels’s husband Scott Walters of sexual assault. The situation outraged the SMTD community and alumni: Daniels took a leave of absence for the fall 2018 semester, though he and his husband deny the allegations.

“I feel like there’s this kind of idea that if you do come forward with something and it’s an allegation against someone powerful, then you are the one who they’re going to drop because you’re the least valuable person in that situation,” the Rackham student said.

***

As mentioned above, student privacy laws like FERPA bar University employees like Clague, Harris and Ferency from commenting on this specific situation, in addition to the ongoing investigation.

But according to Saundra Schuster, an Ohio-based lawyer and Title IX expert witness, many of the parts of the investigation process the student has found so frustrating are just that — frustrating. They aren’t necessarily violations of the misconduct policy.

For example, Taylor feels the situation has disrupted her education. She was told she could either stay in the class taught by her GSI or take an academic waiver in place of the course.  She’s upset because her alleged abuser has so far been able to continue his academic path without penalty. Taylor told The Daily she thinks this is showing favoritism towards her GSI.

On the other hand, Schuster said she thinks the course of action on the part of the University has been pretty standard. Taylor thinks the University’s decision to give her a waiver for the class taught by her GSI while he got to continue as if nothing was wrong showed bias, in favor of the GSI, but Schuster said that’s mostly a matter of due process.

“Removing someone from their job or removing someone from school without an actual procedural piece would be a violation of the policy,” Schuster said. “Not because it wasn’t true or not, but prior to there being an investigation — I mean, honestly, if they said to her, suck it up, you’re going to have to take this class, it would have been one thing, but if they gave her that choice, it seems to me that they provided the appropriate acknowledgment in assistance to her.”

She also said she doesn’t see the student’s placement in her GSI class as an obvious violation of the no-contact order the student originally requested.

“Generally a no-contact order is going to be an explicit description of ‘you may not… initiate any communication with this individual,’” Schuster said. “No-contact orders that institutions typically write are not the 50 feet kind of ones. Those are much more common in legal protective orders where someone has a fear for a physical safety element.”

Schuster also said the lack of warning about a note-taker during the student’s interview with Ferency is pretty in-line with what she’s seen in other cases, too. But she acknowledged it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.

“I mean, if that were not the case they would be recording it and so, always, you want that note-taker there,” she said. “That’s a standard protocol. (But) I think that’s important that she brings that up. I mean, it’s not standard to tell someone in advance or whether they were going to have a note-taker, but perhaps it should be. Perhaps people should be aware.”

And as for the lack of communication with SMTD administrators?

“Well, again, it’s kind of a balancing piece,” Schuster said. “Interestingly enough, I usually hear just the opposite — ‘You shared my story with people that didn’t need to know it.’”  

Though he could not comment on the specific case, Frumkin, the OIE director, wrote in an email interview the length of a Title IX investigation is highly variable. The 60-day limit is merely a guideline.

“As the policy states, the goal is 60 days and that is what we aim for,” Frumkin wrote. “Each case is unique, and can result in circumstances that change the length of an investigation. For example, students may require extra time to prepare or review documents, or their schedule of availability is limited when meetings with the investigator are being scheduled … It really is case-specific.”

Frumkin wrote that supportive measures also vary based on the situation, but they can include academic support services and accommodations, escorts around campus, counseling and medical services, housing or contract modifications, work schedule modifications for University jobs and assistance obtaining personal protective orders.

“Supportive measures are available regardless of whether the person makes a report to the university or to law enforcement; whether the person participates in any investigation; or whether the university or law enforcement investigates … It is important to note that in addition to supportive measures, where an OIE investigation is initiated, protective measures are also available as requested and as appropriate based on the specific circumstances on a matter,” he wrote.

Frumkin also noted claimants can modify or discontinue their supportive measures at any time.

“In its initial meetings with parties, and often throughout the process, OIE offers students the opportunity and encourages them to share information about any measures they believe may be necessary or helpful to them,” he wrote.

But Taylor’s lawyer, Daniel Grna, disagrees. So far, he hasn’t been heavily involved in the investigation process. He wrote in an emailed statement in September that he spoke with the University a few times and said specific legal problems had not yet been discussed. Grna said, in general, he believed the University should have accommodated the SMTD student rather than the GSI.

“She feels unsafe and uncomfortable around the GSI involved in this matter,” he wrote. “Yet the UM officials did not remove the GSI from the equation and let Taylor pursue her education free of his presence and influence. Instead they did the exact opposite allowing the GSI to be in (Taylor)’s class – at least that is he last I know of the situation – full well knowing (Taylor)’s understandable concerns.”

***

The entire process has deeply affected Taylor’s family. Her older brother is constantly angry. Her mother researches for hours and hours a day, making notes and reading about what in the law can help her daughter.

Nights are long.

“Sometimes we’re texting at 3:00 a.m. because neither one of us are asleep,” her mother said. “That’s my baby and that's like the worst thing that somebody could do.”

The family is originally from Ohio, and her mother finds herself driving to Ann Arbor to keep her daughter company.

***

In fifth grade, Taylor had to choose between two very expensive and time-consuming hobbies — horseback riding or music. She choose music and that has been her life ever since.

“‘I am going to pick the clarinet. Maybe I’ll get a college scholarship out of it,” her mother recalls her daughter saying back then.

Taylor made a lot of sacrifices beyond horses — free time, sleep.

Last summer, she went to a festival which featured a huge clarinet solo. Her mother said Taylor decided that night that she was going to get admitted to the festival next year and she was going to get that solo.

And she did.

And it is a family effort too. After an interview with The Daily, her mother grinned and said she was ready for a drive to Canada that night to get one of Taylor’s clarinets fixed.

Now it’s senior year, and Taylor finds herself floundering. While she was preparing for an audition at the beginning of the year, she hastily apologized to her teachers for her performance.

“He needs to leave so she can keep going and work hard because she can’t focus,” her mother said. “The focus needs to be off this whole thing and him. The school needs to do something so so she can live her life.”

Whether or not the OIE is violating the University’s policy for sexual misconduct investigations, Taylor still feels lost and unsupported at school. However, she said SMTD administrators like Clague and Harris have helped her through these tough few months back on campus, and she meets regularly with her SAPAC advocate. When deciding on a college, Taylor chose the University because it was the perfect blend of a prestigious school with an environment less toxic than those seen at many other music programs. But now that view has been severely shaken.

“I can’t wait to get out of here,” she said. “I don’t wear anything Michigan anymore. I don’t want to go to tailgates or go to football games. I don’t want to support this school. Like, I'm not afraid to say out loud that I hate U-M. I don’t care if U-M is this prestigious university … It feels unfortunate that I came here.”

She said several friends and teachers she thought she was close to are now turning on her or distancing themselves from her. She feels alienated from the SMTD community.

“I honestly don’t even really go to school that much,” she said. “I don’t hang out with people. I don’t really see my friends anymore. I go to class and go home. I don’t know what's going on in the music school anymore.”

Taylor said she plans to report her GSI’s abuse to the police in the coming weeks. She’s heard from talking to a friend that reporting to the police is really the only way to bring any attention to a sexual misconduct case at the University, and she’s ready to finish the process up so she can move on. She’s already been accepted to graduate school in Spain for next year, and she’s ready to start fresh in a new place.

“She (the friend) said that the police were a million times more helpful and supportive than the University,” Taylor said. “Talking to her, it seems like the police are the only thing that will probably help me at this point, because we’ve been going through this with the school for months and they haven’t done anything.”

Taylor said she doesn’t feel any particular way about going to the police with the issue. She’s told her story so many times to so many different people in the last four months that she’s numb to it now.

“It’s already hard enough to say something about it, but then when they treat you this way, it’s like of course, this is why people don’t say anything, because it’s like 10 times worse when your school treats you like this,” she said.

Riyah Basha contributed to the reporting of this article.

The Michigan Daily will continue its series in investigating Title IX procedures — the third article will be coming out later this semester. If you have a tip, please contact the reporters or The Daily through email at news@michigandaily.com or by phone at 734-418-4115

CORRECTION: The Daily mistakenly said Taylor was bleeding after the GSI sexually assaulted her in June. Taylor only bled after the April assault, but she said she was in the same amount of pain after the June encounter. The article has been updated to reflect this correction. 

Editor's note: The Daily has received a number of inquiries as to the full text of Prof. Michael Haithcock’s email comment. The full sentence from the email reads “If he is found innocent, after you run the story of conjecture, I would hope he would so (sic) the paper for libel.” Prior to this, he cautioned The Daily against reporting on an ongoing invesigation and urged reporters to hold the story.  The Michigan Daily reserves the right to present quotes in an accurate, fair manner.