Holy Cross Expulsion Challenged
Former Student Files Suit after Rape Accusations
Scott J. Croteau
November 27, 2011
WORCESTER — The May 26 expulsion of a Sudbury man the day before he said he was to graduate from the College of the Holy Cross following accusations he raped a female student has triggered a federal lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Edwin Bleiler, now 23, argues the decision to expel him violated college policies and his federal civil rights.
Mr. Bleiler’s lawsuit also claims that the college’s rape policies unfairly target men as the culprits when sexual activity takes place after those involved have been drinking.
The suit says that the college violated Mr. Bleiler’s federal civil rights because it did not follow rules outlined in Title IX, which requires that claims of sexual misconduct have an equitable process. The suit was filed this summer in Middlesex Superior Court, but moved to federal court in September.
Holy Cross officials said they cannot comment on pending litigation, and cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Mr. Bleiler began his career at Holy Cross in September 2007, and was scheduled to graduate from the college with a 3.13 grade-point average, according to the complaint. Lawyers for Holy Cross denied that his grade-point average and 32 credits are the only requirements to graduate, according to the college’s response filed in court.
Mr. Bleiler was expelled from the college after a hearing. A board found he was responsible in the rape.
In early May , a female student (whose name is listed as her initials in the suit) filed a complaint with college officials. The complaint does not state whom she talked to about the alleged incident.
The woman said she and Mr. Bleiler had sex while she was intoxicated. The woman said she was unable to give consent because she was drunk.
Mr. Bleiler contends the woman was not incapacitated and willingly had sex with him.
“It is important to note there is no allegation here that Eddie was responsible for getting the female student intoxicated or that she was forced or coerced into sexual activity,” Mr. Bleiler’s lawyer, Nicole A. Colby Longton, said, in an interview. “As this policy is applied, if two Holy Cross students engage in sexual activity while intoxicated, the male party is treated differently. This is a violation of federal law.”
In the federal complaint, Mr. Bleiler said the college’s student handbook states consent cannot be given by those who are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol (voluntary or involuntary). He further argues in the complaint that the college’s policy places blame more on male than female students.
“The college’s sexual misconduct policy imposes a form of strict liability on male students: if a male and female student are both intoxicated and engage in sexual activity, the male student could face expulsion for violation of the policy without any evidence of coercion, manipulation, force or any additional culpable behavior,” the complaint said.
A board comprised of five members, two students, one faculty member and one staff member — the fifth can either be faculty or staff — met on May 18, eight days before graduation. Both of the board’s student members knew the alleged victim and were friends with her on Facebook: One was her friend, and the other was her former resident assistant, according to the complaint. Mr. Bleiler brought the student members’ connection to the alleged victim to the attention of Paul A. Irish, assistant to the vice president for student affairs and director of student conduct and community standards. Neither student was removed from the board, according to Mr. Bleiler’s complaint.
Ms. Longton said Holy Cross should have been able to find replacements for those two student board members on a campus that has more than 2,500 students.
“It is troubling when the procedures designed to protect the sanctity of the process are ignored for the sake of expediency,” she said in an interview. “If this were a just process, convenience would never be allowed to trump fairness.”
The first student board member was allegedly biased against Mr. Bleiler during the hearing and had to be verbally restrained by the board, the complaint said.
Mr. Irish is also accused of being biased regarding these types of claims. In filing the lawsuit, Mr. Bleiler’s lawyers included an article in which Mr. Irish was interviewed about campus rapes and the disciplinary process.
The National Public Radio transcript quotes Mr. Irish as saying sexual assaults on campuses are underreported. He also states, “What can we do to make victims feel comfortable to come forward, to feel supported …”
The alleged victim was interviewed on campus by police officers sometime after she filed her complaint. It is unclear if the officers were from the college’s police department or from the Worcester Police Department. The Worcester Police Department said it has no records of an Edwin Bleiler being a suspect in an alleged rape.
“We were informed prior to the Holy Cross hearing that the complaining witness wanted the matter to be handled internally and did not want to be involved in the criminal justice system,” Ms. Longton said. “Charges have never been filed.”
The complaint said Mr. Bleiler and others on his behalf spent roughly $220,000 for his education and without a diploma he cannot apply to graduate school nor have any employment prospects commensurate with his education. It is also difficult for him to enroll at another college to finish his degree.
Mr. Bleiler wants a judge to overturn the expulsion, and order the college to give him his diploma and pay damages.