Students come to college with the expectation to encounter opportunities for growth.
They don’t expect to be assaulted.
And yet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, one out of five women and one out of 16 men will be sexually assaulted while attending college.
Megan Grant, a University of Idaho sophomore, was one such student.
Near the end of her first year, Grant went on a fraternity campout with some friends — it was a trip she said she’d been looking forward to for weeks.
Grant, a member of Delta Delta Delta Sorority, said she started drinking on the way to the campsite and continued to do so after arriving in the afternoon.
She said she saw her Greek Big Brother and went to greet him. The two hung out for most of the day, despite the uncomfortable feeling Grant said he left her with.
“He became really touchy, but I just brushed it aside … People get like that when they’re drunk,” Grant said. “I didn’t really think anything of it because we were big and little, and that’s not how that type of relationship goes.”
Grant said after drinking for about six hours straight, she decided to call it a night and had her Big help her back to her tent. It was the last thing she remembered.
She said her friends told her they came by to check up on her and found her Big in the tent spooning her while she was unconscious. They asked him to leave, but he refused, Grant said.
Her friends left for about 10 minutes and when they came back, she and her Big were gone.
“They looked for me for about two hours,” Grant said. “Eventually, they found me inside of his car … I didn’t have any clothes on from the waist down.”
Grant said she spent the rest of the night in tears before falling asleep somewhere around midnight. The next morning when she awoke, her Big had already left the campsite.
“I knew that something had happened, but I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue any kind of answers,” Grant said. “All I wanted to do, at that point, was shower and curl into my bed. My body was sore and I felt dirty.”
She said he texted and called her multiple times, telling her she never said “no” or asked him to stop. He asked her if she could forget about what happened, but she couldn’t — the damage was done.
Grant’s case is one of several that have been reported at UI. According to the 2016 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, UI cited 18 sexual assaults reported on and off campus between 2013 and 2015.
Women’s Center Assistant Director for Programs Bekah MillerMacPhee said it is difficult for universities to nail down an exact statistic because so many cases go unreported. But from what is known, UI closely resembles the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
MillerMacPhee said UI’s limited knowledge combats their ability to step in and interfere, but the university has many resources toward survivor support, as well as programming opportunities that encourage dialogue.
“I know that there are students who wish that the university could do more and wished that the legal system could do more,” MillerMacPhee said. “The best thing that we can try to do is be consistent with our messages and be safe people for individuals to come seek support from.”
MillerMacPhee said UI is trying to improve the response to sexual assault cases. An example of that is the startup of the Office of Civil Rights and Investigations (OCRI).
OCRI Director Erin Agidius said the organization was originally part of the Human Rights Access and Inclusion Office, but became a separate entity in fall 2016 to put a larger concentration on UI’s Title VI, VII and IX responsibilities.
In 2013, UI was named on a list of 55 colleges under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights for possible Title IX violations.
Agidius said UI has not reached a resolution as of 2017, but the university has taken measures to ensure that it does not happen again.
“We’ve changed a lot since 2013, and continue to change quite regularly to better our practices,” Agidius said.
Agidius said if students are a victim of sexual assault and wish to report it, they can head directly to the Dean of Students Office or to OCRI to make a formal or informal complaint. They can also complete an online form, which is either public or anonymous and available on UI’s website.
Agidius said throughout the investigation process, OCRI and the Dean of Students Office retain an unbiased position.
“Our role is to be neutral, we’re not here to advocate for either party,” Agidius said. “We are here just to find, to the best of our ability, the information and to provide each with the resources and support they need.”
She said OCRI collaborates and refers students to several on-campus departments, like the Counseling and Testing Center (CTC) and the Women’s Center, to help students with the reporting process.
“If (students) aren’t sure what process they’d like to engage in, we encourage them to speak to someone at one of those departments, so they can find out more from someone who doesn’t have to act on it in the same way (OCRI) would,” Agidius said.
Violence Prevention Programs Coordinator Emilie McLarnan said her job is to inform students about resources at UI and how to distinguish between confidential and nonconfidential processes.
McLarnan said some of the confidential sources at UI include the Women’s Center, CTC and the Student Health Clinic, and do not need to report sexual assault cases when notified. Most UI employees and other departments are nonconfidential, she said.
She said it is understandable why people don’t report sexual assault cases, but she hopes they recognize these resources as a way to get the help and support necessary to move toward a path of recovery.
McLarnan said as more people feel comfortable coming forward, UI will get a better handle on the issue. But that comfortability must be established first, and that stems from the resources the university offers.
Grant said her friends urged her to report the incident and although she was initially reluctant, she eventually agreed and went to the Latah County Sherriff’s Department.
“That was a really hard decision to make,” Grant said. “But now, I thank God every day that I listened to them.”
Grant said she didn’t go back to her sorority for a long time, but instead stayed in a friend’s dorm room. After a few days, a professor contacted her to tell her she would fail her class for missing too many sessions.
She went to Women’s Center to discuss her options, and from there was encouraged to go to the Dean of Students Office to explain her situation. She said she also met with OCRI to make a formal complaint to the university.
Grant said she medically withdrew from her second semester because she was unable to “come back from what had happened, mentally or academically.”
She said UI worked to accommodate her throughout the process, which she hadn’t anticipated.
“At first I felt a lot of guilt, as if this incident was my fault, and that maybe I shouldn’t have drank that much or maybe I was being too nice,” Grant said. “It wasn’t until someone from (OCRI) told me, ‘If you want to go to the woods and drink with your friends, then you should — you should be able to do whatever you want without the fear that someone is going to take advantage of you,’ that I finally stopped blaming myself.”
Grant said the hearing for the case was August 2016. It was the first time she saw her Big since the incident.
“It was the hardest thing,” Grant said. “He was staring at me the whole time and I was shaking.”
Grant said he was found guilty and expelled from UI, but he immediately appealed the decision.
She said while the case was in the appeals process, her Big could be on campus, but nowhere near Grant due to a university sanctioned restraining order.
Grant said he appealed the decision three times before officially being expelled near the end of November.
She said talking about the situation with friends, family and even complete strangers helped her heal. Once she started talking about it, she felt like she could take control of the situation and come to terms with what happened. Above all, she got her voice back.
“All people who suffer from sexual assault or rape need to know that their voice matters, and I understand in the moment that when this happened, your voice didn’t and that’s a really shitty thing to come back from,” Grant said. “(But) the minute you speak up, the minute you talk, the minute you start saying this isn’t OK, the sooner you’re going to start to feeling better about it.”
Olivia Heersink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @heersinkolivia