MeToo Purdue held a rally Friday, calling for the resignation of campus leaders found guilty of retaliating against students who came forward with sexual assault allegations.
Last week, a jury found Purdue University guilty of retaliation and treating a student differently because she was a woman. That included Purdue’s Dean of Students Katie Sermersheim and Vice President for Ethics and Compliance Alyssa Rollock.
Charlotte Russel is President of MeToo Purdue. She said in a meeting with Purdue’s Dean of Students, she was told the way to reduce sexual violence on campus was to increase the number of people who came forward to report.
“That very administration that told us the solution to solving this issue was to get survivors to report is now punishing survivors that do report, claiming that they are lying,” she said. “Do you think anyone would feel safe to report knowing that? The hypocrisy is outstanding.”
Russel said repeated promises from Purdue to change campus culture are upsetting.
“I know you’re angry,” she told a crowd of roughly 70 students. “I’m angry too.”
MeToo Purdue is calling for Sermersheim and Rollock to resign. The group also wants to see revisions to the school’s false statement policy - making it easier for students to come forward.
Purdue’s false statement policy is what opened up the student who came forward with a sexual assault allegation—named Nancy Roe in court documents—to discipline that included expulsion from the university. That expulsion was later appealed to a two-year suspension.
Purdue’s false statement policy also impacted a second student initially part of the lawsuit, Mary Doe, who settled out of court in August.
Beth Kelly is with MeToo Purdue. She said she’s disgusted with how Purdue handled itself.
“We’re just really disappointed because we’ve been advocating, for now, a year and we’re not seeing any change from Purdue administration,” she said.
Kelly said the case - and Purdue’s response - speaks to how the university interprets equality on campus.
“The fact that they didn’t even try to help this victim is really disappointing,” she said. “The countless times we’ve met with administration they haven’t done anything. What we want is preventative, pro-active, policy action.”
Grace Gochnauer, vice President of MeToo Purdue, said when parents come to campus they ask tour guides: “is campus safe”?
“If I was that tour guide my answer would be ‘no.’ It’s clearly not safe, and clearly, nothing is being done,” she said. “The administrators have a responsibility to listen to the students and protect them. That is not being fulfilled.”
When reached for comment, a Purdue spokesperson released a lengthy statement saying the university appreciates students and their passion “on this truly important issue.”
“But we believe, because of the evidence presented, that this is not the correct case to use in advocating for it. This was a very rare case of discipline for making false statements in a sexual assault report,” the spokesperson wrote. “The undisputed facts overwhelmingly established that Roe chose the sexual encounter she later labeled a sexual assault.”
In court, Purdue’s attorney played a nine-minute clip recorded by Roe’s alleged assaulter, which they said showed her consenting to sex. Roe’s attorney has said she was too incapacitated to consent to either sex or the recording.
The spokesperson added that the jury, “which in part exonerated university administrators,” had ruled on the narrow issue of whether Purdue’s discipline was appropriate.
The jury did not level punitive damages against university administrators, but it did find their conduct was “malicious or in reckless disregard” of Roe’s rights.
Purdue’s spokesperson also underlined the university’s unwavering support for Dr. Katie Sermersheim and Alysa Rollock, calling any suggestion they resign “out of the question.”
“Purdue’s position in these matters has long been clear: we will not tolerate sexual harassment in any form, including and especially sexual violence,” the spokesperson said. “But neither will we tolerate lying or making false accusations that can have lifelong consequences.”