PSU Sexual Assault Column

Penn State is known for its wild football culture, for raising money “for the kids” every year in its annual dance marathon, and for being Happy Valley.

However, underneath it all, there is a dark side to the perceived happiness on Penn State’s campus, and it involves a history with sexual assault.

Nationally, one in five women experience sexual assault on college campuses. And Penn State is no exception to these statistics.

Data shown in Penn State Police’s annual security report showed that in 2018, there were 45 reported “rapes by force” on the University Park campus, and a 72% crime rate of rape on campus. However, there were zero arrests connected to those incidents that year.

This is a common pattern in Penn State rape statistics, according to the university’s government-mandated annual crime reports.

In 2017, with 30 reported rape offenses and a 49% crime rate, there were zero arrests.

In 2016, with 33 reported rape offenses and a 54% crime rate, there were zero arrests.

Penn State has proven that it perpetuates rape culture by making it difficult for students to prosecute their perpetrators and seek justice.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights sent a letter to Penn State on March 26 addressed to President Eric Barron about the OCR’s Title IX investigation into the university.

Penn State was found to have violated Title IX in numerous mishandlings of sexual assault and misconduct complaints, according to the report. The findings were a culmination of a years-long investigation into Penn State after the Sandusky sex abuse case. The OCR reviewed more than 300 case files involving sexual assault and harrassment reports at Penn State.

The OCR found a great many procedural errors that significantly damaged the rights of both complainants and respondents to a fair process. It found several cases in which the university delayed its investigation into a sexual assault case for so long that a complainant would eventually choose to abandon the process.

One complainant was so upset and distraught she asked the university’s investigator to “never contact her again.”

The OCR also found that Penn State failed to offer sufficient interim measures to students involved in Title IX investigations, which include basic steps like counseling and restrictions on contact between parties.

Ultimately, the OCR found that Penn State blatantly denied due process of law to students involved in sexual assault cases and chose to ultimately protect itself when faced with damaging allegations.

The Penn State community should expect President Barron to be a more diligent about examining and denouncing sexual assault on our campus.

However, when he was president of Florida State University, Barron’s administration allowed for the university’s star quarterback Jameis Winston to lead their football team to a national championship and win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, all while he was accused of sexual assault. His DNA matched the sample sitting in a rape kit the entire time he played.

Violently raped by a stranger during her freshman year, Erica Kinsman later identified her assailant to be Winston, expecting the university to do its job and protect her.

Instead, Florida State and the Tallahassee Police Department botched the investigation, which was uncovered by investigative journalist and Pulitzer-Prize winner Walt Bogdanich in The New York Times.

With too many discrepancies to count, one blatant conflict in the case was that the lead detective on the case, Officer Scott Angulo, had done private security work for the Seminole Boosters —a nonprofit organization with nearly $150 million in assets that was the primary financier of Florida State Athletics and paid about a quarter of President Barron’s then $602,000 salary.

Unsurprisingly, Florida State filed no charges against Winston. While his football career was being praised at the school, Kinsman and her family received so many hateful threats from the community that she ended up dropping out of school.

Barron defended the university’s stance on the Kinsman case by stating, “It’s incredibly important that an institution follow due process” in a 2014 news conference following his Penn State appointment.

An ironic claim now, considering the numerous Title IX violations the OCR unearthed in 2020 — all pointing to the uncomfortable truth that the university does not follow due process at all when sexual assault is concerned.

Barron’s appointment as president of Penn State in February 2014 signified a new era for Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky sex abuse case. The university was supposed to undergo a change, to become a place where what happened to those children would never happen again.

A leader should be willing to do whatever it takes to protect the people. Penn State deserves a president who will make our campus safe for everyone who believes in our school and declares the community their home.

Maybe the next one will.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.