Texas A&M facing criticism over sexual misconduct cases

July 01, 2018 - 2:17 pm
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — As Texas A&M University faces backlash from current and former students over its handling of sexual assault allegations, records since 2003 show that 20 students were allowed to continue attending classes after the school found them responsible for sexual misconduct.

A review of thousands of student conduct hearings by the Houston Chronicle comes as Texas' largest public university is under scrutiny after a female student in June accused the school of not doing enough to punish her alleged assailant, who was suspended one semester and allowed to rejoin the swim team.

The cases reviewed by the newspaper included a total of 51 students since 2003 held responsible for sexual misconduct, which can include sexual abuse, sexual contact or sexual assault. Ten students were expelled, and 21 were suspended.

University officials declined to comment on individual cases, citing student privacy laws. They stressed that regulatory guidance on how to punish college sexual assaults changed over the period reviewed by the newspaper, complicating efforts to compare sanctions over time.

Texas A&M President Michael Young announced last month that an outside firm will review its handling of sexual misconduct cases following uproar over the swimmer.

"This level of scrutiny is what we owe our students and their families, our faculty, staff and the Aggie family around the world," Young said in a June 15 message to the campus.

Sexual misconduct was not a factor in the vast majority of cases reviewed by the newspaper. Of the 6,400 cases that led to hearings, more than 2,500 involved residential-life rules including policies about fire safety, harassment, noise, illegal substances and guests.

Punishments varied widely for the sexual misconduct cases. One student found responsible for sexual abuse received a warning, met with an administrator and had to attend an alcohol education workshop, among other educational activities. Another student found responsible for sexual abuse was suspended.

In 2016, the most recent full year for which data was reviewed, three students were expelled after findings of sexual misconduct. In each case, the students were also held responsible for other violations, such as physical abuse and dating violence.

In another 2016 case, a student found responsible for sexual abuse, sexual contact and physical abuse, along with violations of Corps of Cadets rules, was suspended but not expelled.

Abbie Hillis, an A&M alumna who started a Facebook group for sexual assault survivors, said students want more stringent punishments to deter future assaults.

"We're demanding that if someone is (held responsible for) sexual assault or rape, the answer is expulsion," said Hillis, who now lives in Round Rock. "If you make that the standard, people aren't going to want to do it."

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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