Photographer: Robert Barnet/Flickr

Students Say Brown Decision on Sex Assault Case Was Motivated by Money

Protesters say that Brown may have chosen not to pursue a hearing on sexual misconduct allegations because the father of one of the accused students is a university donor and trustee

Last week, about 30 Brown University students crashed a campus panel on female university presidents. They dressed all in red and taped dollar bills emblazoned with "IX" over their mouths—a stunt to make the point that the university administration had let concerns about fundraising infringe on students' Title IX rights. At the start of the panel, they stood silently in an expression of protest. And during the Q&A session that followed, they peppered administrators with questions about how they've handled sexual assaults on campus.

The students, joined by a growing crowd, are accusing the administration of wrongly ending an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations because the accused student's father is a university donor and trustee. In the last few weeks, dozens of students have decried Brown for allegedly violating sexual assault victims' rights—tweeting #MoneyTalksAtBrown and #GHBGetOutOfRapeFree, changing their Facebook profile pictures to images of themselves with money taped over their mouths, and organizing marches and demonstrations across campus.   

Brown has vigorously defended the way it handles sexual misconduct cases. "Although it cannot comment on individuals, the university categorically rejects any suggestion that a student's family connections are ever a factor in its consideration of student conduct cases," university spokesperson Mark Nickel wrote in an e-mail. 

The alleged incident occurred at a campus fraternity in October, where two women said they were served drinks laced with GHB, an odorless, colorless drug that has been linked to date rape, during a party. The university suspended the fraternity in October and began investigating a fraternity brother who was accused of spiking the women's drinks, as well as a student who was accused of sexually assaulting one of the women after the party. 

In February, Brown dropped the proceedings against the fraternity brother and found the student accused of sexual assault not responsible, infuriating students who say the decisions were motivated by the influence the fraternity brother's father wields. That's not all the students are angry about. In early March, the university admitted that the two laboratories it used to test the women's urine and hair for GHB were unreliable, causing it to throw out evidence that initially seemed to show that the women had the substance in their bodies.

Jordan Shaw, a Brown University senior, tweeted a picture of herself supporing the #MoneyTalksAtBrown movement.

Jordan Shaw, a Brown University senior, tweeted a picture of herself supporing the #MoneyTalksAtBrown movement.

Jordan Shaw/Twitter

"The Brown administration has lost a lot of trust through its handling of this incident," says Katie Byron, a senior at Brown who is protesting the administration's handling of the investigation. "I understand the difficulties for the University given the changing legal landscape around sexual violence policies on college campuses, but that is not to excuse the university for the way its treated these women."

The university has issued numerous statements about the case, saying it regrets that the laboratories it used were unreliable and will refrain from using either laboratory's services in the future. At the same time, it suggested that much of what students and alumni have been saying about the case is inaccurate and harmful to the community. "Further claims or assertions between any of the involved parties will only prolong the disruption and harm these events have caused," the university said. 

Brown is one of at least 94 schools currently being investigated by the federal government for possible mishandling of accusations of sexual violence. Some lawmakers have tried to mandate that schools refer every report of assault to local law enforcement, arguing that police are better equipped than school officials to investigate reports. Many schools have tightened sexual misconduct policies and lowered the burden of proof for finding students accused of sexual assault guilty in disciplinary hearings. Others still, including Stanford, Harvard, and Amherst College, have begun to hire legal professionals to investigate sexual assault cases.

Brown, too, has made some recent changes to how it approaches sexual assault cases. Since January, it has begun to use trained investigators to look into reports, launched a new website with information about Title IX, and assigned deans to provide academic and personal support to both the accused and the complainant throughout cases. 

Despite these changes, the October case has continued to stoke outrage. On Wednesday, hundreds of students silently marched across campus to protest the university's handling of the cases, many of them wearing dollar bills taped across their mouths. Alumni have urged each other on Facebook and Twitter to send letters to the administration.

The university would not comment on the recent allegations or say whether the two men accused are still enrolled, but it seemed to accept the dissatisfaction some students had with its decisions. "It is in the nature of these cases that not everyone will be satisfied with initial findings, outcomes on appeal, or other decisions," Nickel says.

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