Title IX failures: Rider students’ unresolved cases linger

By Amethyst Martinez

Rider alumna who graduated in 2021 said Rider’s Title IX office failed to communicate with her and left her feeling vulnerable after she filed a complaint that a male professor groomed and sexually harassed her. A current senior, whose complaint that a male student sexually assaulted her has remained unresolved for more than a year, believes the office has grossly mishandled her case. And a junior, who reported in December 2021 that she was raped off campus by another Rider student, said she has heard nothing from the university after the school official with whom she filed the complaint left Rider.

In each instance, each young woman voiced a similar experience: complaints filed with Rider’s Title IX officials remain unresolved — frequently open for months or more than a year — caught in a system that leaves students feeling helpless and additionally traumatized.

Title IX is a landmark federal law designed to protect women and girls from sexual harassment, assault and gender-based discrimination, and Rider’s Office of Title IX and Institutional Equity handles reports of violations of the law or the university’s own Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policy.

But the alumna, who said multiple other students joined her complaint against the professor, remembered Rider officials left her feeling “completely in the dark of what was going on. … I felt like I wasn’t offered any sort of protection.”

“It just seems like they do their job and do the bare minimum and make sure that the job is getting done,” said the alumna, who wished to remain anonymous due to the personal nature of the incident, but allowed The Rider News to view university correspondence verifying her complaint. “But beyond that, they just don’t seem to care about anyone’s well-being.”

Title IX office

Rider’s Title IX office is expected to provide support to the university community in creating a safe educational environment by addressing instances of discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct through investigation, formal and informal problem solving and education, according to Kristine Brown, associate vice president of university marketing and communications.

The office has only two, fairly-new workers: Pauline Lloyd, director of Title IX and Equal Opportunity Compliance, and Barbara Lawrence, Title IX coordinator, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and chief diversity officer. Lawrence started her tenure in Title IX in July after university restructuring, while Lloyd was hired in September.

Last school year, these roles were held by completely different employees: Thomas Johnson was the director until he left the university in March, and Rider Vice President for Human Resources, Affirmative Action/ ADA and 504C Coordinator and Affirmative Action Officer Robert Stoto served as the school’s Title IX coordinator before Lawrence was hired.

However, student victims said the university failed to notify them of these personnel changes.

In an email with The Rider News, Stoto said, “I did not step into a new role; I was and remain the Vice President for Human Resources. In June of this year, the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was formed. At that time, certain functions; including Title IX Compliance (including the university Title IX Coordinator responsibility), The Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and Student Accessibility and Support Services was moved under that umbrella.”

Student Government Association President Andrew Bernstein said in an email to The Rider News, “If students feel that processes aren’t being followed or their complaints are being ignored, that is something that needs to be addressed; we hope they will bring these concerns to the SGA so that we can consult Title IX and address any shortcomings.”

‘It’s completely ruined the Rider experience for me’

The senior female student, who wished to remain anonymous because of the intimate nature of the incident, has had her case open for over a year after filing a report against a male student on campus for sexual assault. The student, who shared documents with The Rider News verifying her Title IX complaint, claims that her case has been so mishandled that she now wishes to drop the charges and handle it on her own.

“At this point, I’m so fed up with how little Title IX has been responding to me and how … little support they’ve given me and how little options they’ve given me that I think it would be more productive to just go talk to him myself under no legal pretenses, which is really awful,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

The student, who has a Rider no-contact order in place, said she had been advised by the office to have an informal resolution.

She still sees him on campus as a “constant reminder.”

“At the beginning of last year, I couldn’t even look at him without feeling like I was going to start hyperventilating and throw up,” she said. “At this point, I’ve seen him so many times on campus … I’ve lost all hope in getting the systemic justice in an already broken system. … As much harm as I’ve been through with him, I’ve been through almost just as much harm with Title IX, and I am so tired of it.”

The student said she has tried to meet with the new management of the office for her case, citing Lloyd reaching out in September for a meeting with her. When she went to meet her at their scheduled time, she said she could not find Lloyd in her office. After waiting 30 minutes for Lloyd, she left.

As director, one of Lloyd’s responsibilities is “overseeing the investigation and resolution of matters arising under Title IX and the University’s policies against discrimination and harassment,” said Brown, who declined to comment on the salary of the director position.

Lloyd declined to be interviewed, and instead directed all communications to Lawrence.

The upset senior student said, “I’m paying thousands of dollars to get an education, not talk about how I was sexually assaulted over and over again to a bunch of different people who will probably end up leaving because they realize their job is a fraudulent way of helping people.”

She added, “It’s completely ruined the Rider experience for me.”

The student is now looking to drop her case in hopes that she can find “peace.”

“It’ll look bad on them that I’ve dropped a charge I’ve had for over a year,” she said.

This isn’t the first time the office has been under fire by students who claim that their case was mishandled and that they have to see the person they have filed a report against on campus.

In an article published by The Rider News in April, a different female student – then a freshman – claimed that the the university failed to update her on the status of the investigation, and had no explanation on why the student she says raped her still attended Rider and remained living on campus.

‘It felt like I had done something wrong’

Another concern among students who have filed cases with the office is that they report not hearing anything for months and being left ill informed about their filings.

One female student, who is now a junior, filed a case in December against a male student for a rape that occurred off campus the summer going into her sophomore year. She wished to remain anonymous because of the nature of the assault, and shared documents with The Rider News verifying her complaint to the university.

“Every time I would see him on campus when I came back to school, I would have a full-on anxiety attack and I would literally feel my throat close [and] I couldn’t stop crying,” she said. “It’s so hard seeing a person who has violated you, and it’s like it didn’t even faze him. … Most of the time, I was very afraid to come to school, which is a horrible feeling … that’s a horrible way to live your life, being afraid every day.”

When she filed her case with Johnson last year, she said it wasn’t exactly a welcoming environment.

“Upon going to the office, it just felt very uncomfortable, like it didn’t feel safe,” she said. “It felt like I had done something wrong.”

After filing her complaint, Johnson offered her two options: filing a formal report, which involves police and which the student described as “frightening,” or file an informal report with an informal solution.

“The informal case didn’t really do anything, because at most, they literally told me, all we can do is have a no-contact order,” she said.

The student decided to keep the report within university bounds and filed an informal report in January, but has yet to hear from anyone regarding her case since Johnson’s departure.

“I just kind of stopped hearing less and less, and was like ‘What happened?’ and [then] I found out that he had left,” she said. “I haven’t been contacted since.”

The student says she still has to see the person she filed a report against on campus.

“[I am] left to my own devices. I just keep my head down when I see him, which is very sad, but my friends kind of hold my hand a little tighter when we’re around him,” she said, crying. “You learn to cope after a while.”

She also worked with the male student at an off- campus job, and said that it was handled completely

differently than Rider’s action. “My work handled the situation so swiftly,” she said. At Rider, she
said, “It seems like it took years, and there was no consideration or no empathy towards victims here.”

She recalled that seeing him on campus frequently was one of the hardest parts about the process.

“I would be so busy trying to keep myself alive … It was hard to work on school and work on thriving and growing because I felt like I was just surviving,” she said.

The School of Fine and Performing Arts and Title IX

One thing that all of these students have in common is that they are all a part of what was formerly called Rider’s School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA), which they have all claimed has a serious and longstanding problem in regards to Title IX cases.

In 2020, Rider launched an independent investigation after dozens of SFPA students and alumni created a 44-page document detailing over 120 anonymous complaints including allegations of sexual harassment, racism, inappropriate relationships and body-shaming done by faculty at the university.

In those cases, as with the current ones, students spoke bitterly about poor communication from the university.

“I tried truly as hard as I possibly can with the internal resources that I have to try and make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the program or at the school,” said the current senior. “I just know that in the fine performing arts specifically, we have this sense of community that’s based on vulnerability, and sometimes people can mistake vulnerability for consent, or they think that the vulnerability we share on stage or in class translates into our dorm rooms and personal lives.”

In September, Lawrence held a meeting in one of the performing arts labs with a presentation on Title IX topics such as how to file a report and what counts as sexual misconduct.

“It felt very performative,” said the junior student, who attended. “I felt very unsafe in that room, and there just seems like a lot of passive aggressiveness that I was not fond of either. It sucked having to listen to that meeting with my rapist in the room.”

The senior also held the same sentiment for the meeting and claimed that it felt like a joke.

“She [Lawrence] treated it like it was a pep rally, and she was a motivational speaker,” said the senior

“She made jokes, she even made jokes about the manner in which I was sexually assaulted. … As soon as the question section began, I left crying, as did several other students.”

In a Nov. 3 interview with The Rider News, Lawrence confirmed that she did hold a meeting at a performing arts lab in September, which she referred to as a “training.”

“I think the goal was to have that entire program of students there, [and] there were the numbers,” said Lawrence, who claims there were over 200 people in the theater.

After victims in attendance both claimed the inappropriateness of the meeting, Lawrence said that “she was not cracking jokes at all about the topic.”

She also said that a student approached her afterward mentioning the unsuitability of the presentation, but Lawrence said she “apologized that she felt that way about parts of the presentation.”

“I did bring some levity to a tough topic and struck a balance with the content in a way that
was not all negative and disappointing given the disturbing data and information,” said Lawrence in an email to The Rider News.

‘No one has gotten back to me’

The overall problem with Rider’s Title IX office, however, is not limited to SFPA. Bridget Gum- Egan, a junior English major, wanted to make a report with the office after a male student made her uncomfortable in one of her fall semester classes. Gum-Egan, who also works as a copy editor for The Rider News, visited Lawrence’s office located in the library in early October, knocking with no response. She then sent an email to Lawrence on Oct. 4 telling her about a possible report, and that she’d like to speak to her in person. The Rider News was able to corroborate her story through the verification of documents.

“I [didn’t] want to get into it over email,” said Gum-Egan.

Over a month later, and after filing an additional report with her community assistant on Oct. 13, Gum-Egan said she has yet to hear from anyone from the Title IX office.

“I am still actively in this situation,” said Gum- Egan, who is still in the class with the male student. “No one has gotten back to me, and I don’t really feel like I have a ton of support where I should have it.”

Rider’s website states, “Any person may report discriminatory harassment, sexual harassment, or sexual violence (whether or not the person reporting is the person alleged to have experienced the conduct), in person, by mail, by telephone, by video, or by email, using the contact information listed for the Title IX Coordinator (below).” Rider’s website also says that a complaint may be made at any time including during non-business hours by submitting a report through Rider’s online system called “Report and Support,”or by emailing titleix@rider.edu.

“I just wanted to talk to someone because I had an uncomfortable interaction,” said Gum-Egan. “They should be more on top of this stuff because of the urgency, because I feel unsafe and anxious every time I go to class.”

The office’s response

When asked about these concerns that students are facing regarding lack of responses from the office, Lawrence claimed that they “try to respond to these cases as soon as possible.”

“If it’s something that’s urgent, we certainly want to get the student to that right person,” said Lawrence. She continued, saying “We want to take care of it as expeditiously as possible. When we run into delays, a lot of it has to do with we can’t get in touch with students. … Our goal is to try to make it as comfortable as possible.”

Lawrence said that Lloyd is the main person who is directly responsible for coordinating cases, along with a Title IX response team who works in multiple areas across the university, including athletics, student affairs and public safety. Lawrence also stated that the office is understaffed, a problem that has affected all sectors of the university.

“We’re just trying to be creative and [figure out] who can be available as quickly as possible,” said Lawrence. “I think that contributes to the time lags because we don’t have a standing office of three people.”

Lawrence also said that lack of student responses after the office reaches out could also be to blame for the long response times.

“Some of these things that happen that are reported that are concerning and harmful, [and] we want to take care of them as quickly as possible. So I would say one of our biggest challenges, and I’m not trying to put it on students, but sometimes it’s hard to actually get a time that works,” said Lawrence.

The office has received fewer than five reports thus far this semester, according to Lawrence.

In an interview with The Rider News, Lawrence acknowledged students’ complaints, negative experiences and frustrations, and she apologized.

“I’m very, very sorry, and I’m always disappointed,” said Lawrence. “When I did this intake work, that was the biggest thing was [for] students: ‘How quickly can we get this?’… I’m so sorry that that’s still an issue here, as it is in other places. … It’s not chaos, we’re just trying to build that team.”

Bridget Gum-Egan is a copy editor at The Rider News. Gum-Egan had no part in the writing or editing of this story.

If you have experienced harassment or assault at Rider, or had an unsatisfactory experience with the university’s Title IX office, please contact the writer of this story, Amethyst Martinez, at martinezame@rider.edu.

Survivors of sexual assault can contact Public Safety
or the Title IX Office at Rider or womanspace.org, a Lawrenceville nonprofit that helps people impacted by sexual and domestic violence.

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