Online Course Aims to Raise Awareness

November 5, 2014 6:00 AM

STORY BY COURTNEY FISHMAN AND AUSTIN CANNON 

One in five women are sexually assaulted in college, according to the U.S. Justice Department. With that number, the average college student will know someone who’s been sexually assaulted while at school. The issue has taken center stage on the local and national news media, and Drake is working to prevent future instances through proactive measures.

On Oct. 30, Drake students, faculty and staff received a timely warning regarding a rape that occurred on campus Oct. 24. This is the second occurrence of sexual violence on or near campus this school year.

The first sexual assault was reported on Sept. 8.

Starting next semester, all Drake students will be requested to complete an online training program about sexual assault and dating violence. In the coming weeks, administrators will discuss making the program a requirement. One option under consideration is blocking registration for those who do not complete the course.

Haven, an accredited program from technology education company EverFi, outlines campus policies and offers key definitions and statistics regarding sexual violence.

Alysa Mozak, Drake’s coordinator for sexual violence response, said the program would be personalized to fit  Drake.

“It’s customizable so we can make it very Drake-specific about our policies, and I have a video that I uploaded about me, and who I am and what I do, so students can put a face to the name of the program,” Mozak said.

Mozak heads an anti-violence council made up of faculty from each school on campus. After evaluation over the summer, Mozak and her council decided that Haven was the best option.

“I’ve heard talk about this for a while since I’ve been at Drake,” said Samantha Brenner, president of Student Activists for Gender Equality (SAGE). “This is a model other schools have, just kind of like an alcohol course you would take before you sign up for classes.”

Mozak hopes the increased knowledge will build students’ courage to intervene.

“Everyone knows right from wrong, it’s just we turn a blind eye for certain types of situations because they make us uncomfortable,” Mozak said. “It’s called pluralistic ignorance, so you assume somebody else is going to take responsibility because it either makes you personally uncomfortable or you don’t have the skill set to know what to do.”

Mozak continued.

“If we can change that lens, then you’re going to see people interact in any kind of bystander situation more effectively and more often,” Mozak said.

According to One in Four, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing rape, a nearby bystander reduces the likelihood of completed rape by 44 percent.

Brenner said students have become more aware of sexual assault, which leads them to the “next step” of knowing when to intervene.

“It’s saying, ‘What can I do, as an individual student, to impact this campus?’” Brenner said. “And I think it’s a way to empower students, and make them realize they can be part of a solution.”

Brenner also volunteers for the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) as a peer advocate, and anyone can call the VIP hotline, including friends of survivors.

“If they want advice on policy, maybe they’re checking for a friend, they want to know what the policy is here, they want to know their options, their resources or maybe they want to know how Iowa’s laws work, those are all things that people could call for,” Brenner said.

Drake’s handling of sexual assault cases is under scrutiny by federal investigators. On Oct. 16, Drake President David Maxwell informed students and faculty that the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating Drake’s handling of a sexual assault case. The investigation was prompted by a complaint from a student.

SAGE’s Brenner has examined Drake’s policies using a checklist provided by Mozak. She found that most of the disciplinary power in assault cases comes from Sentwali Bakari, Drake’s dean of students.

“Drake doesn’t have very many checks and balances when it comes to their policy,” Brenner said. “The dean of students is almost solely in charge of decisions when it comes to punishments, and, obviously, that’s not best practice.”

When a student is implicated in a sexual assault case, Bakari conducts the investigation based on the Code of Student Conduct, per the Drake student handbook.

The Code of Student Conduct defines sexual assault and outlines the investigation process and potential punishments for those found responsible for the assault.

“Right now, everything’s very general, vague,” Brenner said. “Like I said, it’s up to the dean of students.”

Bakari disagreed.

“I consult with colleagues before decisions are made,” Bakari said. “I don’t make decisions in isolation.”

Brenner also criticized Drake for a lack of openness and availability of its policy and processes in handling sexual assaults.

“I’d say that our other biggest thing is transparency between the administration and students,” Brenner said. “I know they’ve definitely tried to work on this. But, especially on the website, if you try getting to sexual assault policy and processes, it’s very difficult.”

Bakari said that the information is accessible on the Drake website.

“It’s not when you come to the Drake page the first thing you see is all on this topic, but once you start exploring the dean of student’s website, Alysa’s website, then they (students) start finding them,” Bakari said.

Brenner said Drake’s site should have a one-click link to sexual assault info on its home page, as other universities do.

Bakari says he is satisfied with the placement of sexual assault info on the site.

“I think there’s a balance of where you will be able to find those things (sexual assault information), but like most websites and most institutions, more general information is there and you go from there to specific departments to find this information,” he said.

Brenner expressed the need to educate students on sexual assault, before it’s too late.

“People need to be educated on rape culture and that it’s a real thing that does exist,” Brenner said. “And that there’s evidence of it running rampant on college campuses and that we need to do something about it, fast, before every single school is on this list of OCR complaints.”

Students appreciate the information and education Drake is providing, said Bakari.

“I think people are appreciating that we now have bystander education and training to students. There’s just been more awareness … and more people nationally are talking about this,” Bakari said.

As the discussion of sexual assault becomes more common, Bakari hopes to handle discussion of sexual assault with sensitivity.

“I think maybe students find it to be a very difficult, and very sensitive and emotional topic,” he said. “But I think people are also appreciating that there’s more discussion and more efforts are being made to bring more awareness and education.”

Ebola Risks Lead to Class Cancellation

October 29, 2014 6:00 AM

STORY BY SARAH GROSSMAN

Countries around the world  are taking precautions against the Ebola virus, and Drake University is no different.

On Oct. 22, administration cancelled the trip to Ghana scheduled over January-term.

This course, “Education Opportunities for Children a Developing Country: Ghana, Africa,” was created for students to experience the ins and outs of a different educational system how teachers are trained, the expectations of students and other cultural differences in school systems around the world. The trip cost between $3,030 to $3,430.

“Essentially, there were four main points that went into our decision for cancelling the program,” said Annique Kiel, director of Drake’s administered programs abroad. “In the event of an any outbreak, things like border control, emergency transportation and health care, infrastructure can be tested and deteriorate quickly … Ghana is currently managing a cholera outbreak, so any threat of Ebola would exacerbate any infrastructure issues they may already be facing.”

With increased airport precautions, any students with Ebola symptoms such as nausea, chest pain, cough and stomach pain could face travel restrictions.

“If a student were to become ill over there, the sort of uncertainties and disruptions that that would cause, a fever or anything like that would just cause a lot of alarm and uncertainty,” Kiel said. “We decided it was in the best interest of the students and of Drake to cancel the trip.”

Currently, only four countries in Africa that are in the midst of Ebola outbreaks: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Ebola, a viral hemorrhagic fever, is a part of a family of viruses that cause hemorrhages and bleeding.

“They are very serious, but not as easy to spread. You have to come into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has an infection,” said Meghan Harris, professor of epidemiology.

Although Ebola has not reached Ghana, Drake’s Travel Risk Assessment Committee determined that the risk for this trip was too high. Associate Professor of education, Jill Johnson, who would have led the trip, acknowledged the sadness and necessity in cancelling the class.

“It’s certainly really disappointing,” Johnson said. “I’m personally invested. (But) with all the unknowns right now, it’s really hard for me to put students in a situation that puts them in danger.”

Johnson, however, had a few concerns about cancelling the trip and how it would impact students.

“I had three main concerns, first of all, students who wanted an international experience, wouldn’t get it,” Johnson said. “Another one of my concerns was what about all the money. Obviously, when it’s not their decision, I want the University to take to take care of the kids. A third concern was some of my students signed up for the course to fill the AOI engaged citizen.”

This is not to mention students upset about missing this opportunity.

“I was really looking forward to the trip because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Cassandra Aerts, elementary education major.

Johnson continued to explain that her worries were all resolved.

“The University has addressed all three of those with me and my students. Everything is being totally refunded to them. In the last two days, we have looked and found travel seminars and J-terms that we were still allowed to add students to,” Johnson said. “I know for a fact two students are going to Belize.”

Harris provided final advice for students regarding the Ebola outbreak.

“Don’t panic,” Harris said. “Right now, Drake students should be getting their flu shots. That is the number one health concern.”

Student Arrested and Charged

October 22, 2014 11:10 AM

STORY BY COURTNEY FISHMAN

First-year Michael Crisp. Photo courtesy of Polk County Jail

First-year Michael Crisp. Photo courtesy of Polk County Jail

Drake University first-year Michael Crisp was arrested and charged with first-degree harassment after threatening messages were posted on Yik Yak Thursday afternoon.

Crisp posted bond after his arrest at approximately 3 a.m. Friday morning by the Des Moines Police Department. Sgt. Jason Halifax said Crisp has yet to see a judge and is scheduled to appear at Polk County District Court Monday.

Contacted at his home in Kansas City, Missouri, Crisp originally declined to comment on the advice of his attorney.

Scott Law, director of Campus Public Safety (DPS), said students were the biggest resource to help resolve this case.

“Students wanted to supply us with as much information they could get their hands on to help us determine if it was an actual threat or if someone was just fooling around,” Law said.

Within 20 minutes of the post, Law said he received between 15 and 25 calls from concerned students. But it wasn’t until later that DPS received a screen capture of the post.

A police report says Crisp admitted to posting the threat.

The online threats included that “Columbine will look like child’s play compared to what I’m going to do,” and that the poster had access to “top-tier guns.”

In accordance with The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which limits the release of student’s protected information to a third party, Dean of Students Sentwali Bakari only spoke about general consequences for threatening social media posts.

“Something of this nature could certainly lead to suspension or expulsion,” Bakari said. “Something like this could also have police implications. We will certainly work in cooperation with the police department, or the FBI or any law enforcement to try and resolve this situation.”

Under the Iowa Code section 708.7, harassment in the first degree is considered an aggravated misdemeanor. This could result in up to two years in jail and a fine ranging from $625 to $6,250.

Facebook comments sent to the TD reveal Crisp's early involvement

Facebook comments sent to the TD reveal Crisp’s early involvement

At 1:19 p.m. Thursday someone who identified as Michael Crisp responded to a student’s post about the Yik Yak threats on the “Drake University Student Senate: Student Services” Facebook page.

“Some idiot posted a Yak about shooting up the school worse than Columbine. Unfortunately I doubt they’ll be able to find the dumbass,” and “Indeed. Anonymity tends to bring out the stupid in people,” were two of  comments.

When contacted about the Facebook comment, Crisp said “I was scared and in denial,” via text message Monday night.

Students reacted in different ways about the potential threat to campus, said Student Body President Joey Gale.

“I had students coming to me, telling me their parents told them not to go to class that day, and they emailed their professors, and that was understandable,” Gale said. “I had some students approach me and say, ‘Is this a joke? Who posted this? Why is the university overreacting?’”

The anonymous social media app launched in November 2013 has faced harsh criticism from school officials nationwide. Gale expressed his concerns in a Times-Delphic column published on Sept. 24. 

Other universities have also experienced threatening Yaks on their campuses. Twenty-year-old Penn State student Jong Seong Him was arrested after a threatening Yak was sent Oct. 12. The Daily Collegian reported that Him was charged with “misdemeanor counts of terroristic threats and disorderly conduct.”

Last Thursday, a student from Delevan High School in Delevan, Wisconsin was taken into custody after a threatening Yak. NBC affiliate TMJ Channel 4 said the school went on lockdown for 20 minutes. Yik Yak was also blocked on the high school’s network.

Both Bakari and Gale said there has not been discussion about blocking the app from the Drake network. The campus was not put on lockdown last Thursday, but Law said it was under consideration and ultimately vetoed.

Gale expressed his concerns for the student who posted the threatening Yak.

“I personally don’t think I’m worried about an actual incident, I am worried about the student’s well-being,” Gale said. “Making sure he is working with the health center, making sure he is working with the dean of students, to make sure he is OK and to make sure Drake is still a safe environment for him.”

The arrest of Crisp has some students questioning the anonymity of the app.

“I think this whole incident has been a pretty good wake-up call for Drake students to recognize that the university is monitoring this app and that what you say, I guess, can come back to you,” Gale said. “It isn’t fully anonymous as many may think.”

 

Drake Under Federal Investigation

6:00 AM

STORY BY SARAH GROSSMAN 

On Oct. 16, President David Maxwell sent out an email to the Drake University community informing students and faculty that the university’s handling of a sexual assault case is under review.

“First of all, it’s a case. Beyond that, I can’t say anything. We are cooperating fully with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to do everything we can for this investigation,” Maxwell said.

Drake is currently one of 85 schools under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault cases, according to the Huffington Post. 

Typically, these investigations end with a university’s compliance to refocus on sexual assault and gender-based violence. If not, it is possible for a school to lose federal funding. However, this has never happened.

Drake, in recent years, has introduced various programs to aid and educate students about sexual assault. The Violence Intervention Partner (VIP) support service is a phone service available 24 hours a day and is run by students. Students explain to victims their legal options and provide emotional support after an assault occurs. Drake has its own coordinator for sexual violence response and healthy relationship promotion, Alysa Mozak.

Mozak was restricted from commenting on the case.

According to Scott Law, director of Campus Public Safety, there are processes in place for sexual assault cases.

“Students have a right to make an anonymous report. They can make a report through Alysa Mozak or through the dean of students. They can walk into Public Safety or the Des Moines Police office,” Law said.

At this point in time, Public Safety has only received one report of sexual assault this year. The dean of students received five complaints for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Josh Mascharka, a junior rhetoric and study of culture and society double major, believes Drake is not drawing enough attention to sexual assaults.

“(Reports) are not talked about. You don’t hear about it,” Mascharka said.

Although Drake is facing investigation and these concerns exist, Maxwell holds firm that sexual assault is not tolerated at Drake.

“We will do all we can to support victims in those awful times it does happen,” Maxwell said. “If and when it happens, we will do our best to respond in a way consistent with our policies in place.”

Drake Student arrested for threatening messages

October 17, 2014 2:10 PM

STORY BY COURTNEY FISHMAN

The Des Moines Police Department (DMPD) arrested first-year student Michael Crisp for sending threatening messages circulating Yik Yak yesterday.

A second timely warning from Drake’s Department of Public Safety was sent out earlier this morning to students, faculty and staff.

The email explained the joint effort of the DMPD and DPS investigating the campus threat.

“Crisp, an 18-year-old Drake student, admitted sending the threats when confronted and was arrested.  He is charged with 1st degree harassment and was booked into the Polk County Jail around 3:00 am this morning,” according to a press release from the Des Moines Police.

Crisps’ threats included that “Columbine will look like child’s play compared to what I’m going to do,” and that he had access to “top-tier guns.”

The Drake student was identified through the tracking of IP addresses with the help of the Student Life Center and the Department of Technology Services.

 

 

 

Drake University Public Safety investigates digital threat

October 16, 2014 1:20 PM

According to a campus-wide email, at approximately 12 noon, Drake University Public Safety (DPS) received a tip regarding a digital threat concerning campus safety.

A message circulated the application Yik Yak alleging a possible campus shooting. DPS is further investigating this post.

As of now, no suspicious activity has been reported, but the Des Moines Police Department has increased their presence in the Drake neighborhood.

DPS asks students, faculty and staff to be watchful of any unusual activity around campus.

If you have any information that could help with the investigation call Drake Public Safety at (515) 271-2222.