Former Student Files Suit Against University

I’ve been trying to figure out how to start off this post and I’m not sure I’ll do better than the Hartford Courant: “A former Wesleyan University student who was assaulted two years ago during a Halloween fraternity party filed a federal lawsuit Friday accusing the school of failing to protect her from dangers at [Beta Theta Pi] fraternity, which she claims was known on campus as the ‘Rape Factory.’ ” In an extremely brief article, the Courant notes that one ‘Jane Doe’ of Maryland has filed a 27-page lawsuit in the US District Court of Connecticut, alleging that the University violated Title IX by failing to “warn or otherwise take corrective action” against the fraternity that could have prevented the assault.

As many of you may know, Beta was the primary subject of some controversy very recently, as the University, in the midst of a smoldering disagreement with Beta, changed its housing policy to specifically declare that “Wesleyan students will be prohibited from residing in—or using for social activities—houses or property owned, leased or operated by private societies that are not recognized by the University,” which essentially meant that the University could punish you for eating dinner at a ‘unrecognized’ church, or secret society, or a cupcake shop, or a strip club, or pretty much anything else. Needless to say, some people were pretty confused and pretty pissed.

This policy was put in place in response to at least two documented cases of sexual assault that occurred at Beta around this time (that I know of, anyway). The University issued several warnings to students about alleged sexual assaults. Here is the main body of an email I dug up from my inbox, dated November 9th, 2010:

Over the past week we have received reports of sexual assaults that have allegedly occurred during recent parties at Beta Theta Pi, 184 High Street.  The Middletown Police Department has been made aware of these allegations.  We are not able to share further details about the reported incidents at this time.

These recent reports have renewed our concern about illegal and unsafe behavior on Beta’s premises, as well as our concern for the safety and well-being of Wesleyan students living at the residence or visiting the house.  We remind all members of the community that this privately-owned house does not have any formal relationship with the University.  Further, we advise all Wesleyan students that they should avoid the residence because we cannot establish the safety of the premises.

We are hopeful that those responsible for any crimes related to these allegations will be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  The University will also pursue campus judicial charges against any students who may have been involved.  Meanwhile, we will continue to do all we can to support those who brought these reports to our attention.

During this period, Beta was considered off-campus housing and had not been a part of Program Housing for several years. The brothers living in the House also had rooms in regular campus housing. As private property, P-Safe was not permitted to patrol or even enter the premises, and Beta occasionally called the Middletown Police to evict P-Safe officers from the house (according to a now-graduated Beta member; I was not present for any of these occasions). However, Beta regularly had an MPD officer posted outside the house when they hosted events, and did take some measures to prevent sexual assaults within the house. Beta’s brothers have been mis-characterized in the past as friends of sexual assault; at least one of the documented cases (again, that I know of) during this time was against a non-Wesleyan student.

Clearly, these measures were insufficient, though this certainly did not require the overly broad, extremely restrictive policy response taken by the University. But that part is all bygone.  This new lawsuit brings the issue of sexual assault back to the fore.  Wesleyan has arduously engaged in efforts both to track and eliminate incidents of sexual assault on campus, creating the Sexual Violence Task Force and Sexual Assault Response Team a few years ago. These groups regularly report their activities and findings to the campus community (search your inbox). This new lawsuit highlights the urgency and necessity of their work.

Wesleying will provide updates when possible. Comment in the comments with comments if you have comments.

[Edit 7 Oct 12:38PM pyrotechnics: A staff tipster just sent me a link to this tumblr page, which was apparently put together by an alum just yesterday. The alum claims that Wesleyan as a whole is a rape factory and that the University institutionally and intentionally attempts to silence sexual assault survivors in order to limit bad publicity. The page also seems to suggest that people should use physical violence to take revenge against Beta and other sectors of Wesleyan that “defend” rape culture. I’m curious as to when this alum graduated, because many of the claims made about University policy are no longer true. I’m gonna do some journalism, confirm (or not) my understanding of University policy, find out what I can, and post what I find here. Look for edits and updates soon.]

[Edit 7 Oct 12:41PM pyrotechnics: I’m also just going to say that I do not support taking “revenge” on Beta through the use of physical violence. The very idea baffles and depresses me.]

[Edit 7 Oct 10:25PM Zach: Aaaand we’re on the front page of Salon.]

[Edit 8 Oct 11:24PM pyrotechnics: And now on the Huffington Post. HuffPost notes that the national Beta Theta Pi office has responded by condemning the actions of the perpetrator and senior office staff have flown out to Connecticut. More updates as they roll in. Also maybe a new post. ]

[Edit 27 Oct 6:17PM pyrotechnics: New, very much relevant article that everyone should read.]

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42 thoughts on “Former Student Files Suit Against University

  1. assignment writing services

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  7. Alum '12

    I do not believe in profiting from trauma. I think that this issue (sexual assault on campus) is incredibly important, but I think that this suit brings negative and unproductive attention to the issue and ignores the important steps that the University has taken to slowly improving the treatment of cases of sexual assault on campus. Honestly, as controversial as it sounds, I find the suit selfish and counterproductive.

  8. Nico '12

    I don’t think my comment went through the first time so, apologies if I am posting this twice.

    My heart goes out to Jane Doe. I hope all Wesleyan students who experience sexual violence and are subsequently disrespected and/or silenced by the university know they are not alone.

    Where pyrotechnics wrote: “Wesleyan has arduously engaged in efforts both to track and eliminate incidents of sexual assault on campus, creating the Sexual Violence Task Force and Sexual Assault Response Team a few years ago,” it should be mentioned that these changes were DEMANDED by students, alumni, parents, professors, and staff. Change will NOT happen from the top down. Remember the power we have as a community to demand better. And we deserve so much better.

    Much love,
    Nico ’12
    (real name)

    Works Cited:

  9. Pingback: Wesleyan/Beta Theta Pi – Former Student Files Federal Lawsuit Connected to 2010 Sexual Assault | Fraternal Squib

  10. Aaron Weiss

    Since the Courant writeup was so short, here’s the entire lawsuit, freed from PACER:–sBRiTm1IOWxaWDRueFU

    One very important point of clarification: The lawsuit claims Beta had Program Housing status at the time of the rape. Pyrotechnics here says that’s not the case.

    Can someone confirm whether Beta was or was not program housing during the fall of 2010? I suspect a lot of the University’s potential liability will hinge on whether or not Beta had any official status at the time.

    1. anon

      Beta was not program housing in Fall 2010.

      The whole kerfuffle involving Beta’s status happened in February/March 2011. As a result, Beta joined program housing. I’m not sure if the agreement was effective from that point on, or started with the 2011-2012 year.

      I’ve looked through a bit of the filing. This means that the University’s off the hook for a good chunk of the complaint against it, but there’s still some claims that could hold up.

      1. Aaron Weiss

        Yeah, that’s some serious legal sleight-of-hand in the second paragraph of the lawsuit. It’s certainly enough to make you question the accuracy of the other factual and timeline claims in the suit.

        I’d be curious to hear a Title IX attorney weigh in on whether the “Free Beta” protests could be considered sexual harassment, and what other parts of the university’s actions could potentially be Title IX violations.

        But as to the negligence claim, it’s going to be a whole lot harder to pin liability on the University for events that happened off campus. I can’t imagine a judge will look kindly on factual inaccuracies in the initial filing, either.

        1. pyrotechnics

          See anonymouse’s comment below. The protests of Spring 2011 were in protest of the housing policy change, not necessarily in support of Beta.

  11. dp'15

    This story has made it to the front page of Salon:

    Just out of curiosity, how many folks have actually heard Beta referred to by students as “the Rape Factory”? I’m wondering because it seems the new media has really latched on to that term (it appears in all the headlines). Though I have heard Beta and DKE associated with sexual assault, I have never once heard “Rape Factory” used…

  12. James Lowell

    Speaking as a recent Wesleyan graduate and fraternity brother, I am glad that this lawsuit is moving forward and forcing the University to address this issue. I will add two point, though:

    1) A fraternity does not a band of sheeple make. During my time as an undergraduate, we had long, serious discussions about sexual assault, primarily because, by virtue of being a fraternity on a campus like Wesleyan’s, we were inherently labeled as assholes, as meatheads, and as people who were incapable of exercising any level of moral or ethical judgement. I joined a fraternity because of the camaraderie it presented, not because I thought it would make it easier for me to pick up drunk freshman and the like. Nobody was ever encourage to go out an commit sexual assault, or rape: my fraternity brothers understood the impact it would have on us as people and as an organization. I reject the notion of ‘bro-culture’ being purely at fault here, not because ‘bro-culture’ doesn’t exist — it does, and female friends of mine at larger and less, er, open institutions have encountered it first hand — but because I truly believe that not every member of a fraternity inherently becomes a node for disseminating and reinforcing slutshaming and other things that create a rape culture. The Courant article cites several fucked up problems: an RA who didn’t report the rape incident at the center of this suit, a community that fucking *picketed* this woman’s dorm room. By putting ‘bro-culture’ on trial, this becomes an attack on fraternities, which encompass PLENTY of people like myself who find this shit HORRIFIC, and not a constructive venture into a) bringing places that *do* condone or at least whitewash sexual assault under the umbrella of university policy and b) preventing instances like this from happening again in the future. Fraternities, as organizations, are not the enemy: fraternities contain horrible misogynistic people, but they also contain those sweet and brilliant classmates who you know and may respect from other parts of your college career. If Beta is at fault here, it is at fault for being an organization that tolerates sexual assault, *not* for just being a fraternity.

    2) My brother was accused of sexual assault in high school. By someone he didn’t know, who he chatted with once, at a party. The girl came home drunk and, afraid of being sassed by her strict mother, said she had been fed alcohol and then given a ride home from my brother. The mother threatened to have him arrested for rape, despite that my brother, an asshole but *not* a rapist, had never had sex *ever*, least of all with this woman.

    The reason I bring this up is NOT to delegitimize accusations or rape, which should be taken VERY seriously, nor to imply that every rape accusation is in fact a Tawana Brawley incident ( The point is that an allegation of rape is *NEVER* clean cut and ALWAYS complicated. No victim should be harassed for being a narc and reporting their rape, but no man or woman should be accused of rape and then run off campus with pitchforks without there being some sort of rational, constructive process for determining what happened. My brother’s life could’ve been ruined: no one will hire a guy who has an arrest for attempted rape on his record, even if he was later exonerated. We have due process in this country for a reason, and people are innocent until proven guilty FOR A REASON. This is the reason we have systems in the first place, as any political science student knows: to create order and stability so we can pursue the ventures (education, personal development) that really matter. A community ruled by pitchforks and mob mentality does nothing but create a community of instability, of fear, of anxiety. That said, is the process itself is totally fucked (as this Tumblr proposes), the University and the Wesleyan community need to take steps to addressing it.

    I would like to see more evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that “Wesleyan institutionally shields rapists from being held to public account, be it legal or otherwise.” And I don’t say this to say “there isn’t enough evidence for this trial,” because I’m no lawyer, but I want to see a history, a timeline of institutional behavior that has supported or defended rape before we make sweeping statements about Wesleyan being a fucking “rape factory.”

  13. Anonymouse

    Small bit of clarification: the student protests were not IN FAVOR or IN SUPPORT of Beta. They were against the administration’s new “housing policy” which told students that they could not associate with any fraternities or societies that were unaffiliated with the university. Given that this policy completely restricted student freedom, people were naturally upset.

    1. wesbiker

      Memorial chapel: Rape Factory

      ….what? I mean I understand completely this person’s outrage, but why the hell would you make it seem like the entire university is full of rape? Obviously there needs to be very strict action taken against organizations at Wesleyan who do not take measures to prevent sexual assault at their parties. Obviously the Health Center needs to do a better job of assisting students who are victims of sexual assault. But to portray the ENTIRE UNIVERSITY as a place where rape and sexual assault are condoned is preposterous. Most of the students here are extremely against rape culture. Just because isolated organizations/individuals within the university create environments that are unsafe does not mean the entire university is inherently evil.

      I say we should put extreme sanctions on Beta and the other frats, including a requirement of PSafe patrols outside of, and within, their parties. They need a Psafe officer to strictly bounce the door – nearly all the incidences of sexual assault at Beta have been by non-Wesleyan individuals. Beta and the other frats need to stop fucking letting in sketchy townies, and need to allow Psafe to regulate the parties. This may seem “lame”, but when people are being assaulted, there needs to be a change.

      1. '14

        Okay… you’re not really helping either, not by terming out neighbors “sketchy townies” and definitely not by universally accusing all fraternities at Wesleyan of promoting rape culture.

        1. wesbiker

          Ok, I concede that “sketchy townies” was not the best way to describe Middletown residents who come into these parties. However, there is something to be said for requiring a WesID to get into a party on campus… Given the high number of assaults by non-Wesleyan individuals, that needs to be taken into account.

          As for “universally accusing all fraternities at Wesleyan of promoting rape culture”: Sorry, but based on the attitudes I have witnessed and personally experienced at EVERY SINGLE ONE of the three frats on campus, I do not in any way retract what I said. Rape culture doesn’t just refer to allowing a rape to occur; it also refers to victim blaming, slut shaming, and promotion of dangerous environments where everyone has drunk way too much and is not necessarily around people they know and trust. Until I see a concerted effort by all the frats to change this mindset, I stand by what I said.

          1. '14

            I’ll agree about requiring WesIDs; that’s usually done these days. However, I don’t think that the frats need to be singled out as places that promote dangerous environments where everyone’s too drunk and people don’t look after their friends. That particular phenomenon is a pandemic that pervades almost the whole of campus social culture, and indeed college social culture around the globe. Yes, there are other measures the frats can be taking, but the blame should not rest solely on their shoulders — not by a long shot.

          2. Bo Jangles

            Feminists won’t be happy until the world is as boring as a library, which is where they hang out on Friday nights.

      2. Anonymous

        So are we also going to sanction every other building that has had a rape on campus? You have no idea what you are talking about. People are being assaulted??? One assault in the past 10 years? Statistically less then other areas of campus.

  14. pyrotechnics

    Note: a very brief bit of journalistic digging does not produce any recent graduate named Jane Doe, but we can reasonably assume this is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the involved. Also, I might have just missed an actual Jane Doe. You never know.

    1. Adam

      Wait is this brilliant irony or just what it seems to be? On a related note, though, I’ll take “Jane Doe” when you want to report being harassed or assaulted, but I will not be led by the social and political musings of a person who refuses to be identified. Anyone who thinks the identity and character of this blogger/activist is irrelevant is kidding themselves. Calling the chapel a “rape factory” and asking people to “take revenge” (whatever the fuck that means) … own up to that.

      1. Sol id

        Ummm, did you read the article? Much of the lawsuit aims to address the emotional distress caused by repercussions of this woman’s public “outing”…. See the contradictions now?

    1. wesbiker

      There have been a lot more reported incidences of sexual assault at Beta… Possibly because they just have more parties there. But really, the bro-culture, victim blaming and rape-apologism that runs rampant in the frats is what is responsible for these incidents… As well as the fact that these frats are letting random non-Wesleyan people into the houses during parties… That’s a huge mistake.

      1. margo

        what about parties on fountain? should we require all seniors to check wesids at the door? perhaps we should outlaw inviting guests to campus? furthermore, i doubt you are in any position to make claims about “what is responsible for these incidents.” are you familiar with the details about all of the sexual assaults that are reported on this campus? you’re implying that bro-culture and fraternities are solely responsible for the assaults that occur on this campus, an allegation that i think is self-evidently both inaccurate and prejudiced. look, i can’t be certain–maybe more assaults occur at fraternities and are committed by fraternity members than other respective campus organizations and demographics. but it seems to be to be highly unfair to make these kinds of inflammatory claims based on what is admittedly anecdotal evidence. perhaps you’ve had a bad experience with fraternity members–valid enough, but i’ve met plenty of kind and respectful frat members who easily serve to counter your assertions. is your experience with frat brothers more authoritative than mine? i think you’re making unfair generalizations about groups on campus that are already somewhat marginalized and targeted by the typical “wes student.” eclectic stopped hosting the notorious sex party a few years ago because of the high incidences of sexual assault that occurred, yet curiously i didn’t see comment threads talking about how the “eclectic culture” was to blame. why is that?

        1. Sunny

          In addition to this, the university has a pretty sordid past concerning its handling of sexual assault accusations on campus. I know several people whose sexual assaults on campus have been ignored and pushed under the rug by administrative non-actions and bureaucratic processes. Also, if you were someone who followed the unfolding of the Beta House vs. WesAdministration saga, you might have picked up on the conveniently strategic way in which the administration employed its handling of the sexual assault, using it more as a tool in the University’s long-storied contentions with Beta and the house’s off-campus/autonomous status, rather than treating the sexual assault as the most central (and separate) concern.

          1. Batte_A

            Can’t be stressed enough. It’s really telling of the administration that the actions against Beta were taken under the pretense of sexual assault, yet time and time again administrators prioritize a low profile over support for victims when students bring cases forward.

      2. Hahsnridbev

        Source about all these reports? And he was not a random person he was visiting a student. Don’t talk if you don’t know anything about this

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