by Gabriel Sandoval
The U.S. Department of Education has concluded its years-long investigation into Butte College’s handling of a student rape allegation, determining the community college violated federal law.
The investigation began after a student filed a federal complaint in February 2013, alleging she was raped by an unnamed college football player at an off-campus party in September 2012 and that the college’s response did not comply with the gender-equity law known as Title IX.
Under the law, colleges must investigate and adjudicate allegations of sexual assault, on- and off-campus, in order to maintain safe learning environments free of sex-based discrimination, so as not to deny or limit a student’s participation in activities or programs. Colleges failing to comply risk losing federal aid.
On July 12, Butte College entered into an agreement with the federal government, pledging to revise and improve its Title IX procedures, among other modifications, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by the Chronicle of Higher Education and posted online. While not admitting to any violation of law, the college agreed to be monitored for at least three years.
On July 17, a representative of the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter of findings to Butte College President Samia Yaqub, which was also posted online. It detailed the ways the college violated Title IX in relation to the student’s 2012 rape allegation, as well as with four other sexual misconduct allegations reported to the college in subsequent years.
Before OCR finished its investigation, Butte College had the longest active Title IX investigation in California, lasting nearly 4½ years, according to a ChicoSol analysis of Title IX cases compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education in its news app, Title IX Tracker, for such cases on college campuses.
Among the findings listed in OCR’s letter:
• The college’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures do not comply with the regulations of Title IX. They were not compliant when the student notified the college of the allegation nearly five years ago, nor were they in compliance when the federal investigation concluded this year.
• Butte College failed to promptly and equitably respond to the student’s allegation.
The student requested the college “issue a mutual no contact order, and/or place some restrictions” on the football player so she could walk on campus without fear of crossing paths with him. But no officials granted her that request. Instead, other arrangements were provided.
The college also knowingly used a grievance process that wasn’t Title IX compliant.
And during the college’s investigation, Allen Renville, the vice president for student services and then-Title IX coordinator, didn’t give the accusing student an opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence, even though he afforded the accused student those rights.
In addition, Renville solicited information about the student’s past sexual activity from friends of the football player, which contributed to his conclusion that there was not enough evidence to justify disciplinary action for the athlete, according to the letter.
In a phone interview Thursday, Renville denied soliciting the information, saying that it was “provided.”
The students providing that information had not personally witnessed the conduct they alleged, but Renville told OCR on three occasions that the woman had engaged in those alleged activities, a statement that evidence reviewed by OCR did not support. The woman disputed the rumors during the investigative process. “Rumors of the Complainant’s past sexual behavior with third parties are not relevant to determining whether the Respondent sexually assaulted her, yet the Title IX Coordinator stated that he relied on this irrelevant and prejudicial information when making his determination,” reads one part of the letter.
While accepting the finding, Renville denied to ChicoSol that he used the information.
The female student had a 3.56 GPA before the incident, but dropped out of college mid-semester. In the letter, family members said she was “social, not easily upset, and goal oriented,” but later “became incapable of being unaccompanied on campus and had frequent emotional breakdowns.”
“That the Title IX Coordinator, a high level representative of the College, was asking for information about the Complainant’s past sexual behavior from the Respondent’s friends contributed to her inability to continue at the College,” the letter notes.
Renville also misapplied the “preponderance of evidence” standard, the legal standard used to determine whether there’s enough evidence for disciplinary action in Title IX cases. It’s a lower evidence bar than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.
When asked to describe the applicable standard, Renville “did not describe a process of weighing the evidence to determine whether something was more likely than not to have occurred,” the letter reads. “Rather, he described the standard as ‘a good classic level of need’ that involved considering the health and safety of students and the best interests of the institution.”
• An unnamed football coach, as well as Athletic Director Craig Rigsbee, became aware of the sexual-assault allegation and had an obligation to report it, but both failed to do so.
• The college didn’t provide a fair appeals process after the woman appealed the claim that there wasn’t enough evidence to discipline the accused student.
Members of the college’s judicial council, who helped decide her appeal, told the OCR of various ways the college’s legal counsel, Aimee Perry of Lozano Smith of Sacramento, confused or misdirected them in the appeals process, which included questioning the athlete and reviewing evidence gathered by the college.
Even though the judicial council concluded that the woman could not consent because she was intoxicated during the encounter, “the College’s legal counsel redirected the members to deciding whether the Respondent could have reasonably known that the Complainant lacked the capacity to consent,” according to the letter. The judicial council, and subsequently Kimberly Perry, the former college president, decided that the football player believed the woman could and did consent to the encounter, and that no sexual violence occurred. The accused student was required to attend training on sexual assault and the college was required to review its policies.
• Renville and Perry were aware of at least one student witness who was intimidated by a person connected to the college, but they failed to take action. “OCR found that the Title IX Coordinator and President were on notice that one or more student witnesses felt pressured by College [redacted] not to report what they had witnessed or participate in the investigation, yet the College failed to investigate or consider whether there may have been a threat of retaliation in its assessment of whether there was a hostile environment on campus,” according to the letter.
That finding, Renville said, became known to him only recently.
“We found that out from the findings,” he said.
Renville, who had served as Title IX coordinator since March 2009, is no longer in that role. Stephanie Jimenez, a college staff member, replaced him as interim coordinator in June.
A national search for a permanent Title IX coordinator is pending, Renville said.
“As a result of our resolution, we had to have a full-time Title IX coordinator,” said Renville, who had balanced the dual responsibilities of vice president and coordinator for years.
“I hope the OCR’s findings… combat a culture that continues to sweep sexual assault under the rug” — former Butte student
Jim McCabe, a lawyer who represented the female student pro bono during the appeal, said that while it’s disappointing the investigation took so long, he’s glad that OCR recognized she was mistreated by Butte College and that it secured a resolution agreement from the institution.
His client’s complaint requested that Renville be dismissed as Title IX coordinator, McCabe said.
“She’s gratified to see that Butte has moved on, and they’re looking for a full-time Title IX coordinator who will be trained and competent to investigate claims of sexual violence,” he said.
Through McCabe, the student issued a written statement to ChicoSol:
“I am glad that in the end the Office for Civil Rights has recognized Butte College’s negligent mishandling of the complaint and has held them accountable for their actions,” she wrote. “In numerous ways I was mistreated by the college; it is my hope that the changes in Butte’s procedures that have been negotiated by the OCR will prevent future survivors of sexual assault from having to endure the pain and grief from the fallout of … (negligence)… and systemic failure. I hope the OCR’s findings and resolutions will make this college, as well as other campuses, a safer place and combat a culture that continues to sweep sexual assault under the rug.”
In May 2014, the U.S. Education Department announced that Butte College and 54 other higher education institutions were under investigation for possibly violating Title IX over their handling of alleged sexual violence. The list was part of the Obama administration’s effort to crackdown on campus sexual assault and to be transparent about its enforcement of Title IX.
Four months later, amid the federal investigation, Butte College came under more scrutiny when it was revealed that a student, Brandon Banks, had joined the college’s football team. Banks was dismissed from the team when it came to light that he faced felony charges for his involvement in a high-profile gang rape while attending Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
In June, a jury found Banks guilty of aggravated rape, aggravated sexual battery and other counts. He was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison, according to media reports.
Gabriel Sandoval is a senior journalism major at Chico State and a ChicoSol intern.