Though F. King Alexander, the former President of Oregon State University, has submitted his resignation following public backlash for past violations of Title IX, the University has unaddressed concerns from vocal survivors.
OSU has a history of mishandling or burying accounts of sexual abuse that occurred on its campus and/or involving its students.
To begin to see the scope of things, we must go back 23 years when two OSU football players made what their coach called “a bad choice.”
In a later account, Brenda Tracy said to The Oregonian/OregonLive that phrase, “a bad choice,” haunted her.
Tracy anonymously reported to police in 1998 that she had been sexually assaulted by four men, two of whom were football players for OSU. The assailants were booked and taken to Benton County Jail, where the OSU football players were accused of sodomy I, unlawful sexual penetration, and sex abuse II.
Despite piles of evidence, the district attorney still needed Tracy’s cooperation for conviction, but the closest people to her faltered in their support. She said she was on the verge of suicide and “already dead” in her mind.
The players did not end up being convicted, and charges were not officially filed.
After the player’s arrests, their coach suspended them. But, when the case was dropped, the coach only enforced a one-game suspension on account of their “bad choice.”
Tracy did not come forward as the victim until 16 years had passed.
A year later, Kristin Samuelson alleges she was drugged and raped at a party she attended as an incoming freshman at OSU.
It happened in the same apartment as Tracy, with the same method, and one of Tracy’s alleged assailants the year previous was a cousin to one of Samuelson’s assailants.
Samuelson said that upon her report of the assault to the University’s sexual assault counselor, she was dissuaded from seeking further help and felt even further shamed, humiliated, and distressed emotionally.
Samuelson did not take any further action for 16 years.
Over a decade and a half after being gang raped, Tracy called John Canzano of The Oregonian and told her story.
Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president of university relations, was one of the people Canzano contacted for the story.
“This is something we take seriously, even 16 years later,” Clark told him. He added that the University might be interested in working with Tracy for its sex-assault prevention and education focus.
Almost a year after Tracy came forward with her story, Samuelson also came forward with hers and slapped the University and the head football coach from 1999 — Mike Riley — with a lawsuit for their mishandling of her case.
Samuelson said that not only did the school not help her, but as she was raped under the same circumstances as Tracy, the school did not take steps to fix the problem. She also alleged the coach took steps to suppress the information.
The same year, OSU hired Tracy to be a sexual violence consultant for OSU.
The President at the time, Ed Ray, asked the community to keep the University accountable for what they say and what they do.
“Words matter, but talk is cheap. However well-crafted the words are, if there isn’t complimentary action, they’re just words. It’s a challenge to all of us to back this up,” Raysaid in an interview. “It is our responsibility to our students and the community. We are going to do our damnedest to make sure that nothing happens to them while they’re here. It’s not about making the University look good or bad. We have to do our best to make sure their experiences are as positive as possible and we need to get on the negatives as soon as we can.”
When Samuelson’s case was presented before a federal judge, he ruled to dismiss the case.
“Justice and accountability took a back seat to the outdated notion that ‘boys will be boys’ and the truth took a back seat to the desire to attract donors and talented athletes,” U.S. District Judge Michael McShane wrote in his Feb. 22 ruling. “But equally clear is that these defendants are not liable under the tenuous Title IX, equal protection, or due process theories put forth here.”
Less than a month after, the Huffington Post published an article titled “What It Looks Like When A University Truly Fixes How It Handles Sexual Assault,” where they talked to Tracy and discussed her work at OSU.
“Ed Ray really stepped up to the plate — not just said something, but actually did take it seriously,” Tracy said in the article. “I’m very confident in this point that he really does care and gets it.”
Then, just four months after that article, OSU student Miriam Morrissette was raped by a Ph.D. candidate and graduate teaching assistant who also attended the University. Morrissette told The Advocate that when she reported the rape to the Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center (SARC) eight days after it occurred, she was allegedly discouraged from going to the police. This discouragement was repeated by a nurse practitioner, who told her rape kits were invasive.
Clark told The Advocate that discouraging people from going to the police was not something the University condoned in policy or practice and said the nurse practitioner had no experience with rape kits.
Morrissette also had details about her autism disclosed to either the alleged assailant or his attorney. That personal and confidential information was used against her in a court hearing for a restraining order.
On top of all that¸ Morrissette was only interviewed once by the Equity Officer while the case was investigated. She claims she wasn’t given information about her title IX rights, wasn’t allowed to have her chosen support people through her interview process, and three university employees discouraged her from going to the police.
Though she did go to the police, the district attorney decided there was not enough evidence, and her rapist would not face charges.
Luke Heimlich, a star OSU baseball player, was a convict sex offender and the news broke of this after he missed a check in during 2017.
When he was still in his teens, Heimlich pled guilty to one charge of sexually molesting a 6-year-old female family member. He had to register as a Level 1 sex offender in Washington, which counts that level as the least likely to reoffend.
It is unclear whether the school knew of his conviction at the time of his admittance, although he had registered as a sex offender in Corvallis as that was how the police discovered he had not re-registered.
Heimlich went from being the best pitcher in the NCAA to being “unselected” in the MLB draft. He left the OSU team for a while.
A few months after Morrissette’s story of the events that occurred the year previous, Kathleen Case, a rape survivor and a 2016 graduate of the University came forward to tell her story.
At the same time, The Advocate was investigating and corresponding with student survivors about their experiences with the structures of OSU’s reporting structure.
Students who are referred to and then report their sexual assault to SARC are not counted in data about sexual assault on campus unless they are reporting to legal authorities because of SARC’s rules about privacy and confidentiality.
Survivors could report to a hotline to include their information in statistics reports, but that was not mentioned by any OSU official or survivor The Advocate spoke with. That information was only in the Clergy report.
Meanwhile, Case alleges she was shut out of the loop on information about her case after she reported to the office of Equal Opportunity & Access. She said she emailed an associate at least once a week, and had not been fully interviewed in the two and a half months after reporting the assault.
Though her alleged abuser was pulled from her classes and was supposed to have no contact with her, he came into her work and did not leave. Case said she tried reaching out, but did not hear anything until a week had passed.
After contacting President Ed Ray about the situation, Case was able to hear back from various involved offices and finally got to be interviewed. Three months after being assaulted, the EOA told Case there was not enough evidence to charge the alleged abuser.
Case appealed the decision, and that triggered a Title IX investigation into the University’s handling of sexual assault complaints.
OSU announced a new policy that requires students to disclose past felony convictions and sex offender status.
A few months afterwards, the New York Times covered Heimlich’s return to baseball at OSU and his vehement refusal that he had assaulted someone during his teen years, despite his guilty plea years before.
That was only the first of several events that happened during this year.
The Barometer published a story about survivors containing similar threads from accounts of other survivors over previous years. The anonymous survivors the Barometer reached out to said that they felt unsupported in the University’s process of reporting.
One student going by the name Gambee* said that the office of Equal Opportunity & Access, the branch students need to file a Title IX report to get their assault investigated, had poor communication.
In an email, Clark claimed that OSU tries to respond in a timely fashion.
“I never question how any person feels or what they believe,” Clark wrote to the Barometer. “We have changed our procedures and the process significantly since the start of fall term 2017.”
Of the three students that spoke with the Barometer, all of them noted a lack in EOA’s communication.
Diana* alleged that the SARC discussing the low rate at which sexual assault cases are successful when filed made her feel dissuaded from reporting.
After this article, another student had enough with the University’s handling of this issue and filed a lawsuit. A Jane Doe filed the suit alleging OSU retaliated against her for imposing a mutual no contact order after reporting a football player for rape.
OSU reached a compromise with Jane Doe out of court, and both parties declined to say what that compromise entailed. The rape charges against the accused assailant were dismissed by the state due to insufficient evidence.
In July of 2020, F. King Alexander replaced Ed Ray as OSU’s president. In 2021, he was put on probation and then resigned due to public outrage about how he handled Title IX violations at his previous job as president of Louisiana State University.
Though Alexander is no longer the President, the interim President Edward Feser is not without controversy. Grace Kuo, OSU professor and former dean of the College of Pharmacy, alleges that Feser aided and abetted whistleblower retaliation against her after she came forward with concerns from students relating to discrimination, racism, bias, and sexual harassment.
The fact of the matter is that OSU has taken steps to help survivors and prevent assault from occurring. There is a mandatory course on consent, vans with drivers that will take students safely home, and a plethora of people available to report sexual assault to.
However, problems continue to arise. And as we watch the Board of Trustees manage their search for someone new to sit in the president’s office, we have to ask: has it been enough?
*** Asterisks used for pseudonyms to protect the identity of victims.
By: Hannah Ramsey