Sexual misconduct case nears end
Fifteen Colby College students have permanently withdrawn or been suspended from the College for school policy violations that include sexual misconduct, lying to school officials and hindering an internal investigation, according to President William “Bro” Adams.
The punishments were handed down by administrators after a three-month internal investigation, which began on Nov. 5 when a female student at the College learned that a number of football players had intentionally watched through a window as she engaged in consensual oral sex with one of their teammates, according to a student who had direct knowledge of the situation and asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
In President William “Bro” Adams’ Official Notice to the College sent on Jan. 12, he explained that the case was handled internally because the incident did not constitute a crime. “After consulting with the District Attorney’s Office, the [Waterville] Police Department determined that the facts as presented did not constitute a crime, and a criminal investigation was not initiated,” Adams wrote.
This same e-mail revealed the internal investigation’s conclusion that “15 students were charged with a range of infractions against Colby policy, which included: sexual misconduct; sexual harassment; lying to College officials; conspiring to obstruct an investigation; and behavior that one knew or should have known would cause emotional harm. Thirteen of the cases have been resolved; two are still in process.”
Since Adams’ announcement, at least one of the remaining students has received sanctions after attending his Student Conduct Board hearing last week.
“Anyone in these situations has a right to request a hearing in front of a panel,” Senior Associate Dean of Students Paul Johnston said, “but only one of the students requested that, as opposed to waiving one’s right to a hearing.” According to Dean of Students Jim Terhune, “When the individual who has been charged with something agrees with what the facts are, they can elect to have their case resolved administratively,” which is the course of action that the majority of the accused students chose. In essence, these students were admitting, “‘Yes, I’m responsible for what happened here, and I’m willing to accept the sanctions that have been imposed,’” Terhune said.
Two students have permanently withdrawn from the College, which denotes a voluntary and permanent separation from the institution. “That’s significant because most people who withdraw from Colby plan to finish their degree elsewhere…and when a student transfers, there is a request for information from their prior institution,” Terhune said. “As a matter of practice with very few exceptions, colleges require transfer applicants to provide information about their disciplinary records at the institution from which they are transferring.”
Other players’ sanctions ranged from a one-semester suspension to a multi-semester suspension, depending on the nature and number of their infractions.
One of the involved players who is currently suspended from the College agreed to an interview provided, at the advice of his lawyer, that he remain anonymous. The interviewed player, who intends to transfer to a school that equals Colby in academic caliber, said that most suspended players do not plan to return to the Hill after serving their suspensions.
On Nov. 8, a meeting was conducted in the men’s locker room between students on the football team, Terhune, then-Head Football Coach Ed Mestieri and Dean of Faculty Lori Kletzer. During this meeting, Kletzer “made a request to the team to come forward with information,” she said.
According to the interviewed player, the meeting was “really tense. That’s when Coach Mestieri told us he was putting his job on the line by backing our story.” Mestieri said that he would resign from his eight-year post as head coach if members of his team were found guilty of the charges being brought against them.
Ten days later, Mestieri informed his team that he was resigning from his position.
The week before the coach announced his departure, though, students were already discussing the alleged incident in dining halls and dorm rooms. On Nov. 10, two campus-wide e-mails, sent to students and faculty within four minutes of each other, acknowledged the disquiet.
The first notice, written by Adams, publicly acknowledged that “much of the campus is now embroiled in a conversation about whether some members of our community have violated Colby’s sexual misconduct policy.” After announcing that the investigation was well underway, Adams wrote, “Federal laws prohibit Colby administrators from revealing at this time information that would identify any of those who are allegedly involved in this situation.” The football team was not identified in this e-mail.
Minutes later, an e-mail signed by the Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Board revealed its decision to cancel the two fan buses that were scheduled to transport students to the football team’s away game against Bowdoin College on Nov. 12. The Executive Board, comprised of SGA’s seven leaders, wrote, “In light of recent pending allegations, we feel that we can no longer justify the buses for the football game….Although the charges are only allegations, they are of a serious and ongoing nature. We cannot support students who may have acted in a blatant breach of our values as a community.”
John Iseman ’13, a former member of the football team who left the team due to injury, publicly voiced his outrage regarding SGA’s decision via the online Community Digest of Civil Discourse on Nov. 11. “I find it hard to believe that all of them were involved in the wrongdoing that has resulted in a flurry of rumors and the cancellation of the support buses,” he wrote. “It is more likely that just a few members of the team were involved.”
The interviewed player who was involved in the sexual misconduct incident cites the cancellation of the fan buses as one of several ways in which he feels that the case was mishandled. “Bro sent out an e-mail saying that there was an investigation but that no one would be identified. Then SGA sent out that e-mail to identify [the football team],” he said. “I think some other people, like SGA, should be taking responsibility for how this [incident] went down.”
The Colby vs. Bowdoin football game was played as scheduled, although three players were suspended from the game due to their alleged involvement in the incident.
Johnston and Director of Security Pete Chenevert served as the investigators for this case. The administration asked students to come forward with information, and the investigative team was ultimately responsible for conducting close to 50 interviews with students speaking on behalf of both sides of the issue.
“We were trying to determine what took place,” Terhune said. “Then we moved into hearings and applying sanctions, and we got some [outside] assistance with that later on.”
According to the interviewed player, the administration offered lighter sanctions should the interviewees provide names of the students who watched the incident. At least one player who talked with Johnston and Chenevert offered the names the teammates who he knew had watched, yet not all of the suspended students were involved in the actual voyeurism.
The interviewed player said that the administration’s investigative process disappointed him, along with many of his teammates. “From the first time I went in [for questioning], it was like, ‘You’re guilty. We don’t care,’” he said. “The head of security…wouldn’t believe anything I said.” The interviewed player also noted that he was particularly upset with the administration’s treatment of the male student who engaged in the sexual act because “he was basically forced out before they had any knowledge of anything.”
Other students commend the administration’s determination to arrive at a just conclusion to the investigation. “Dean Johnston has basically devoted his last three months to this case,” SGA Co-President Laura Maloney ’12 said. “They exhausted everything to come to the truth, and it came out. All the allegations that people have about administration incentive…[well, this] just proves that they put students first.”
Maloney questioned why many involved players lied to college officials and noticed that other students covered it up by withholding information. “We all make mistakes, but why is honesty not a core value here? People didn’t want to [speak against the incident] because, ‘Oh, well, I have friends on the team,’ or, ‘I know those guys.’ I don’t think they’re bad people, but they shouldn’t cover it up,” she said.
The 53 members of the football team who remain on campus were completely uninvolved in the incident, but they have unjustly faced repercussions for their teammates’ actions. As Iseman wrote in his post on the Digest of Civil Discourse, instances such as the cancelation of SGA’s fan buses were “not fair to the rest of the team.”
Clare Saunders ’12, who considers herself friends with many members of the football team, said she sympathizes with the innocent players. “I think that a lot of the guys who weren’t involved feel very much like everyone is looking down on them and treating them differently and assuming that they were a part of something that they simply weren’t,” Saunders said.
As a result of the misconduct case, Kletzer worked closely with Director of Athletics Marcella Zalot to create programs for building leadership within the Athletic Department. “Plans are afoot to address, more systematically, the leadership training in athletics starting with freshman athletes…up to senior team captains,” Kletzer said. One of their major strategies involves attending to the divide between the athletic culture and the culture of the rest of the campus.
This misconduct case has initiated many campus-wide conversations and demonstrations regarding sexual assault and its related policies. Terhune, who is in charge of the planning group for the campus climate surrounding these issues, aims to “use this as an opportunity not only to illuminate policies and procedures…but also to talk about what our collective response to each other and the community is.”
Maloney echoed similar sentiments concerning the outcome of this investigation and expects that the community will learn from this event. “I really hope that this will encourage more women and men to speak up when something happens to them,” she said. “I hope that we realize that we should be honest in general because the truth always comes out. Some things aren’t worth being protected.”