A Mother Recounts Her Son’s Ordeal of False Accusations and Campus Kangaroo Justice

Bobbie Wilson

In high school, my son never spoke much about college, so I felt like college wasn’t in his plans. In the Spring of his senior year, he surprised me and said he wanted to visit a small liberal arts school located a couple hours from our home in Southeastern Indiana.

We visited and he loved the school right away. He only applied to that one college. I worried about him being accepted since he applied so late, but he received an acceptance letter within a couple weeks. He was so excited and couldn’t wait to start his college experience.

I, on the other hand, had mixed feelings. I’ve always been a protective mother. He was my only child for 10 years. Perhaps my motherly instincts were warning me that things would go terribly wrong for my son.

August 2012:

Things seem to go okay during my son’s freshman year other than a few minor issues with his roommate. In his first semester, he was inducted into the Honor Society. Only 20% of freshmen are inducted during first semester, so this was a great accomplishment. He was interested in campus Greek Life, so he went through Rush week. He pledged Sigma Chi. My son had grown up fairly sheltered. I knew that fraternities were known for partying. My son assured me that Sigma Chi was different.
During freshman orientation, parents were assured that underage drinking was not tolerated, but I learned that was not true. My son was under 21, yet he was allowed to party with alcohol present at his fraternity. Sigma Chi hosts big parties with alcohol and the college knows this is taking place. Yet nothing is done by the administration to ensure the younger students aren’t being endangered.

By my son’s senior year, he had held several leadership positions within the fraternity chapter and also one with the national organization. In one of these positions, he was expected to report instances of hazing. He took his job seriously and was diligent, which caused some brothers to be upset with him. Unfortunately, he would become the target of some vindictive brothers.

January 2015:

On January 7, 2015 my son was intoxicated and sleeping in the basement of Sigma Chi.  He woke up to find a Sigma Chi brother performing unwanted sexual acts on him. My son pushed him away, they argued, and my son left the basement.
The next day (January 8th), my son spoke with the “house dad” about what had happened. The “house dad” told him to just work it out with the fraternity brother who assaulted him because it was Rush week. The “house dad” said if they reported it or took any action, it would hurt their Rush numbers. My son took the advice of the “house dad” and decided to deal with the situation the best he could.
In mid-March or April, my son and the brother who assaulted him came to an agreement. They would put the incident behind them and move forward as friends again.
However, in May my son and his fraternity brother had a confrontation over the brother leaving a door propped open while he was outside drinking with some non-college friends. A chapter email had just been sent out about not leaving this door propped open, so my son un-propped the door which closed it. The brother was furious and confronted my son: “You will prop the door back open or I will report that you raped me.”

My son texted the “house dad” about the incident and told the house dad what the brother had said. The house dad replied that was typical behavior from the brother.  But my son had had enough, so he reported the assault to other members of the fraternity and told them he wanted to file a formal complaint. He was again discouraged by the chapter from doing so even though he asked about it three times.

The reason was that the brother who assaulted him was about to graduate, so a report would jeopardize his graduation. At this point my son began staying with a friend at her off-campus apartment to avoid the person who assaulted him. He truly felt threatened by this person. In hindsight, he should have filed a Title IX complaint, but he had been discouraged by the people who he trusted.
The brother who assaulted my son graduated and left the campus.

My son’s senior year began in September 2015. What should have been an exciting time for him became a nightmare.

November 2015:

In Sigma Chi there are Grand Bigs, Bigs and Littles. The Bigs are mentors to the younger members who are littles. On November 21, my son found his Little at the fraternity house intoxicated. His Little was drunk to the point that my son was worried he would either get sick in his sleep and choke, or that he might have alcohol poisoning.

My son helped him to the bathroom, and he and another brother got his pajamas for him. My son took him to his room and put him to bed and asked him if he wanted him to stay in his room that night to make sure he was okay, to which the little replied okay.  My son lay on the couch which was very close to the futon where his intoxicated Little is on. They talked for a few minutes, and  my son told him if he needs anything, he will be there. They both went to sleep.
The fraternity risk manager and another fraternity member began to open the door every couple of minutes, snapping pictures. By this point my son and the intoxicated Little were asleep and had no idea pictures are being taken. After taking two or three pictures, the risk manager went to the fraternity president and told him that my son and his Little were sleeping in the same room together, and said my son might try to touch the intoxicated brother. They then decided to remove my son’s Little from the room. The next morning they told my son’s Little that they removed him from the room because they thought my son might have touched him while he was drunk.

In the accuser’s statement, he admitted to having no idea what happened that night, and that he didn’t know anything until the fraternity president and risk manager later spoke to him. This led us to conclude they had encouraged him to file the complaint. This all happened just a few days before Thanksgiving, but my son knew nothing about the concern until November 30th when he received an email from the school’s Title IX Coordinator asking him to come to her office. When he asked her what it was about, she wouldn’t tell him. She only informed him that she needed to go over some things with him.

Not having any idea of the purpose of the meeting, he went to her office ALONE. When he walked in, she handed him a letter of formal charges against him for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy. There were 10, yes, only 10 days, between the complaint being filed and him being formally charged. This means there was little or no investigation, as there were only three school days from the time the complaint was filed until the school was closed for Thanksgiving, November 26th -29th. During these three days, she never once spoke with my son prior to November 30th.

According to the College’s policy, when the Title IX Coordinator receives a complaint of sexual misconduct, she is expected to open an investigation and speak with the accuser, the accused, and anyone else having information BEFORE any formal charges are brought. Since she didn’t speak to my son prior to giving him the letter of formal charges, this suggests she violated the school’s own policy. She accepted the information received from the accuser and his two witnesses and charged my son with something he didn’t do.

The school policy also states that preliminary investigative interviews will be held before it is determined if there is need for a hearing. However, on the back of the letter of formal charges, he was told there would be a hearing and she would contact him with the time and date once it was set. He was forced to move out of the fraternity house, was given a meal card and was asked to give a statement with his account of what happened that night.

The Title IX Coordinator emailed him asking if he had completed his statement. Mind you, the rights of the accused student state he has the right not to give a statement. But she pursued him so relentlessly, he felt compelled to give one. She wouldn’t meet with him to go over witness statements and evidence until he gave her his statement. It was apparent the Title IX Coordinator was determined to get his statement so she could hurry up and hold the hearing. She had no interest in seeking the truth or hearing his side of the story.

December 14:

The Title IX Coordinator finally met with my son and his hearing advisor to review the accusation, the accuser and witness statements, and other evidence. This meeting took place less than 24 hours before the scheduled hearing, when school’s policy states the Title IX Coordinator shall meet with persons five days before any scheduled hearing.

December 15:

This was the day of my son’s hearing. The accuser and his witnesses were scheduled for a later time and my son was not permitted to hear their testimony or see the evidence they presented.

December 16:

My son was informed that the hearing panel needed more information. Since winter break was starting, the accuser’s witnesses had already left campus, so the hearing would continue when classes resumed on January 11, 2016.

December 17:

I messaged my son to see what he wanted for Christmas. He was short with me and told me he had too much going on to talk about Christmas.

At this point, I still knew nothing about the allegation or the hearing. My son is always trying to keep me from being upset, so he still hadn’t told me anything. I finally found out about my son’s condition when he attempted suicide and went to the hospital.

December 18:

My son was transferred from the local hospital to a mental health facility four hours away. He spent the next six days trying to cope with what was happening at school.

We finally got to bring him home for Christmas on December 23. To say it was an emotional roller coaster for my son would be putting it mildly. He informed me that he had withdrawn from college so that he could get himself mentally and physically healthy again. His goal was to go back to school in the fall of 2016 and get a fresh start, even though this would mean pushing his graduation date from May 2016 to May 2017.

Because of the time he had to take to defend himself against the Title IX accusations, he was forced to take incompletes in a few classes. As a result, he had to return to campus January 15, 2016 so he could try to complete his unfinished classes.

January 2016:

My husband drove my son to campus and dropped him off the evening of January 14th. He emailed the Title IX Coordinator on January 15th to see if there had been a decision on his case. She informed him via email that a second complaint had been made against him by the same person who assaulted him one year before on January 7, 2015. This was the student my son tried to get the fraternity to file a formal complaint against on his behalf in May, 2015.

By not following through with his request to file a complaint against this former student, the Sigma Chi fraternity officers were able to turn it around on him. Needless to say, my son failed two of his classes and was expelled on February 8th.

My son also told the Title IX Coordinator he was on campus if she needed to meet with him, but she did not promptly reply to that message. After waiting for a reply for two hours, he sent her another email stating that neither she nor the college should contact him. He messaged me and told me there was a second complaint and that we should come get him on Saturday morning to move all his belongings from campus.

February 2016:

On February 17 upon arrival for his part of the hearing, my son was handed a letter from the Title IX Coordinator. This letter turned out to be the hearing panel’s decision in the first case, which reported its finding of not responsible.

One week later, as a result of the second complaint, my son was ultimately expelled from campus. Little did they know that we had moved my son off campus one month before.

Once the appeal was denied we requested my son’s files from the school. We found out that during the first hearing, the witness for the accuser (the risk manager of the fraternity) who told the accuser to file the complaint, stated during questioning that he did not believe my son had touched the accuser prior to them removing the accuser from the room. But he speculated he might have done so later had they not removed the accuser.

If you can make that kind of statement during questioning, wouldn’t that suggest the accusation to be FALSE? However the Title IX Coordinator informed us the board did not believe it was a false accusation; they just couldn’t discover sufficient preponderance of evidence to find my son responsible.

During the second hearing we found out from these files that the first accuser stated during his questioning that my son did tell him in May 2015 that he was assaulted by the second accuser. When asked what he did about it, he stated, “Nothing, because I didn’t believe him.” This proves that my son did tell fraternity officers about what happened in May, seven months before the second accuser made his allegation.

But none of this mattered. They wanted my son out and they were going to do whatever it took to find him responsible.

June 2016:

We filed a complaint against Hanover College with the federal Office for Civil Rights, which contacted us a week later. We turned over my son’s disciplinary file that we received from the school, even though they failed to include everything we had repeatedly asked for.

We even emailed the president of the College and were told by him that he would not be able to answer our email after speaking to the school attorney. If they have nothing to hide and if they handled my son’s cases appropriately, why were key emails between the Title IX Coordinator and one accuser omitted from the files?

July 2016:

You begin to think the nightmare is almost over or at least the worst of it, but think again. My son received an email from the International Sigma Chi fraternity informing him a complaint had been filed to remove him from the fraternity. We know for a fact that at least some of the people involved in the cases were behind this complaint.

August 2016:

We received a letter from the Office for Civil Rights informing us they had opened a formal investigation against Hanover College.