UNF Spinnaker

UNF ROTC student claims university mishandled sexual misconduct case

Heydi Ortiz, Courtney Green, and Zach Yearwood

A student in the University of North Florida’s U.S. Army ROTC program alleges she was sexually harassed by the program’s Assistant Military Science Professor in October 2019.

A female cadet claims that during one of their physical training sessions, a Lt. Col. who was an instructor in the ROTC program stood over her while she was doing situps and inappropriately touched her legs without consent. 

A UPD police report filed in April 2020 stated that it was “in an apparent attempt to assist her sit up repetitions.” The student alleges that the officer stood close enough to her that she felt his leg hairs. She also alleges the Army officer, who is also African American, used racial slurs to other cadets, sent inappropriate text messages to his students which can be seen below, made harassing comments about her body, and discriminated against her based on her pregnancy by allegedly refusing to allow her time off for maternity leave.

Because the Lt. Col. was not charged with a crime, Spinnaker is not releasing his name.

Although the Lt. Col. was removed from his position at UNF, the student claims UNF mishandled the situation when she reported it to UNF’s Title IX office. 

According to the student, the office informed her that because the Army is involved, the Title IX office did not have jurisdiction over the incident and would not open an investigation. The student then waited a few days before reporting it to the Army, but in the meantime she had to work alongside the Assistant Professor of Military Science for a week before he was dismissed — not by UNF, the student claims, but by the Army instead.

Title IX states that “schools should ensure that no student has to share campus spaces (such as dorms, classes and workplaces) with their abuser.”

9 things to know about Title IX (Courtesy of KnowYourIX.org)

“I don’t want to look at this like this is an Army situation, because we’re not stationed at schools. So he was a professor. He was a faculty member,” the student said in an interview with Spinnaker.

The student claims that, because the Title IX office failed to act in a timely manner, she and the professor continued to have unwanted contact for a week after making the complaint.

Additionally, the student claims that when she made a public records request, the University would not release her public records to her for six months following the incident. Spinnaker obtained screenshots of emails exchanged between the University and the student. In the emails, the University explained that they could not supply the Equal Opportunity and Inclusion (EOI) investigation file due to the investigation remaining open as of April 8, 2020. The student alleges that it took an email to President Szymanski in order to finally receive her file.

Finally, the student claims that the Title IX office did not file a police report on her behalf and did not suggest she should contact the police in the days following the incident.

“When I filed the Title IX complaint, I thought that was enough. I thought that would take care of everything. I honestly didn’t know I needed to file a police report because I thought the University was going to do everything. After this happened, I wanted to forget it all. I didn’t even want to think about what happened to me. The University was supposed to be my safe haven. Never did I think I was going to go there and have sexual misconduct or be discriminated against.”

When asked why she waited so long to come out with her story, the student responded by saying that she is very protective of her military career.

“I wanted to handle it in a private manner the best that we could, and we have — my attorneys and I — we’ve tried to handle it as best as we could, but UNF still accepts no responsibility in what they did, yet they have made several statements that they don’t believe in racial injustice and they are all for diversity, but here you have this situation where I was African American, I was pregnant, I was a female and I experienced these things on your campus and you did not open an investigation.” 

However, the University said in a statement to Spinnaker that it worked with the Army ROTC in the investigation.

“UNF did conduct an interview with the student and then coordinated with the Army ROTC to handle the investigation. There are documents and records which have not been released yet as this is part of an ongoing investigation. We are unable to comment further as this matter is part of a pending complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights,” the University said.

The student maintains that the University is not telling the truth and that she was told an investigation was never opened by the University because the University thought the military was supposed to carry out the investigation due to the professor’s status as an active service member. The student also maintains that the University is not releasing documents pertaining to an investigation because there was never an investigation to begin with.

“They are not the ones who removed him. It was the Army. The Army pushed for him to be removed for the safety of the cadets,” the student said. “I will not stop fighting until they take responsibility for what they’ve done. It’s affecting me emotionally. This is not the type of college experience I thought I was going to have.”

UNF Spinnaker reached out to the Lt. Col. for comment. 

He denied the accusations– saying he was not guilty and he threatened to sue Spinnaker for defamation if the story was ever published. 

In an earlier statement Spinnaker obtained, the Lt. Col. stated,  “Cadets and all personnel are held liable and responsible for their duties,” he said. “When people fail to do what is required of them, they should not falsify information in hopes of getting out of what they are required to do.” 

The student believes this statement is in reference to the fact that she had just given birth and could not completely perform to the same standards as her peers but still maintains that it has nothing to do with what allegedly happened to her.

The student indicated she would like the University to take responsibility for what happened to her on UNF’s campus. 

“I’m not bashing the Army. I’m thankful that the Army’s system works, because in my situation someone was removed immediately after they did something wrong. I’m concerned about the system at UNF. You go to their Title IX office, you report that something happened to you, and there is no urgency. They just act like they don’t even need to look into this. What if a female student came there and said she was raped? Nothing. To me, I’m surprised that the faculty member there didn’t even say ‘hey, we need to file a police report.’”

She also suspects she is not alone in her experience with the Title IX office.

“There may be other students out there who made a report of something and the Title IX office didn’t do anything,” she said. “I didn’t know that a Title IX office was on a university campus, I didn’t know the process of it until it happened to me. They have a responsibility to protect students and to provide these resources, so I’m coming forward to educate other students, and I’m coming forward because the University needs to take accountability of what happens on its campus. Don’t make statements saying that you don’t believe in racial injustice and you believe in diversity, but here you had this huge matter happen on your campus and you kept it quiet for a very long time.”

Spinnaker made an attempt to reach out to the student’s attorney but did not get a response back.

Spinnaker will update you as more information becomes available.

___

For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

17 Comments

17 Responses to “UNF ROTC student claims university mishandled sexual misconduct case”

  1. amanda on June 19th, 2020 7:48 pm

    It sounds like a bunch of fake crap to me. Like someone wants notoriety for something. First, this same “student” went to the news because like many families who couldn’t see their families in the hospital at the escalation of COVID-19; felt the need to be heard. Plenty of families had the same thing happen where they couldn’t see loved ones in the hospital. Now this…lol. She wants justice, well you got the man fired, is that not good enough? No, because she wants to get paid. Filing a lawsuit for something no one even saw him do. Where is your witness?

  2. Kyli R on June 20th, 2020 10:51 am

    The school needs to reopen this and give her a fair and just trial. This lut. Needs to be held accountable for his acts and making someone feel uncomfortable!! DO SOMETHING. NOW.

  3. Jadelyn McGhee on June 20th, 2020 11:47 am

    Military or not that’s disgusting. UNF is willing to let an assault happen without any further consequences.

    The school may preach minority groups are welcomed but refused to protect when it really mattered. They acted faster when a faulty member was found in a compromised position with another man. He should not be allowed to teach anywhere.

    How about education freshmen during orientation on where to go even give them the list of things they can make a report on.
    (Rights are too important to gloss overfor the sake of image.)

    This brings dishonor on every student, faculty ,and staff.

  4. D on June 20th, 2020 11:51 am

    So many schools have failed to protect their students from predatory students and teachers. UNF needs to act now to revamp their Title IX office and look at their own failings in this situation. I think them claiming that Title IX isn’t applicable here is just them trying to get out of a situation they were unwilling to deal with. Time to reopen the case, UNF.

  5. Tori Reiman on June 20th, 2020 9:19 pm

    UNF, listen!! Please. This woman deserves and needs your support! Be open, be honest, give this woman your respect and support. She deserves justice for this unfair situation!!

  6. T on June 20th, 2020 11:28 pm

    T

  7. Cy Earl on June 21st, 2020 12:04 am

    I demand that UNF opens another investigation into what happened. One that prioritizes the truth not another cover up.

  8. Tanisha Crisp on June 21st, 2020 12:09 pm

    Bottom line is UNF went against Title IX laws. Title IX laws state:

    Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq., is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities.  All public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities (hereinafter “schools”) receiving any Federal funds must comply with Title IX.  Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.

    Below is additional information regarding the specific requirements of Title IX as they pertain to sexual harassment and sexual violence.

    What are a school’s responsibilities to address sexual harassment and sexual violence?

    A school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively.  If a school knows or reasonably should know about sexual harassment or sexual violence that creates a hostile environment, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the sexual harassment or sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.Even if a student or his or her parent does not want to file a complaint or does not request that the school take any action on the student’s behalf, if a school knows or reasonably should know about possible sexual harassment or sexual violence, it must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation.A criminal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.

    Source: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html

  9. Katie Chorbak on June 21st, 2020 7:08 pm

    Firstly I want to start by saying I am a current UNF student and a veteran of the US Army. UNF why aren’t you investigating this? Why aren’t you doing your job to protect women on campus and especially cadets. What if I told you 1 in 3 women are raped during their career in the military. I happen to be one of those women. In this case the Army did the right thing by removing him, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of the Army doing something right in a case of sexual harassment and misconduct. He quickly threatened a law suit, which in the military means if you print it, it will ruin my career so I will ruin you. But you choose to do the wrong thing?

    Look, I know that Betsy Devos literally just changed the Title IX rules to protect the accused, but this case happened before the change. I read the new ruling, as a rape survivor I found it important to know my rights on campus when it pertains to issues like these. To see the administration handling this wrong infuriates me beyond belief. It is your job to protect civilians on this campus, your job, it’s why we pay tuition. I implore you to do the right thing. Do not be a part of the bigger problem of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. It’s what continues rape culture.

    I stand behind this cadet with every fiber of my being. There is no place for negligence on sexual harassment. I took a class as a new student coming here on sexual harassment/assault , why are you not following your own rules?

  10. KAPullings on June 21st, 2020 8:11 pm

    UNF is great at protecting their name. Just like when there’s shooting going on, on campus and they said they don’t have to notify the parents. Yet they want to use our income to pay for our kids college. But we’re not worthy of a timely notification when my son is walking around campus at the same hour these things are occurring. They gave us the run around and the same statement they used in the press release while our son was attending and there was a shooting at the dorms. Same with the racial incidents that occurred as well. Notifications late and downplayed for their benefit but what would have been the response had the neo-nazi student shot up the campus? They should handle the incidents with true transparency and integrity. While there is some truth to what is being spoken about the military disciplining their own there should have still be a record of the incident. Especially when the student pays the school for the courses. Unacceptable! For other women to come on here and attack the victim that’s the reason men are allowed to continue their behavior. It’s sad the anger is being displayed by people is towards the victim and I wonder if she was a different persuasion if that would be something that is being questioned. Colleges have been known to hid sexual assaults under the rug! But people are concerned about a lawsuit and not the fact that women are being assaulted and harassed on campus. No one should have to suffer harassment and the policy needs to be changed. No one should have a charge against them and it not be addressed until after she goes to the news and files suit. Stop trying to protect your name and protect the students. Notify parents when their children’s lives are in danger.

  11. Sheavanne on June 21st, 2020 8:28 pm

    This young woman deserves to be herd!

  12. D. Brunson on June 22nd, 2020 12:25 pm

    I think UNF needs to open up a case and investigate because this is not right. I thought schools are suppose to protect a student.

  13. Miranda on June 22nd, 2020 1:58 pm

    If there was enough basis for the army to fire him… why weren’t charges filed for her? Obviously they found him guilty of the misconduct in the investigation, so it is the university’s responsibility to respond to the Title IX violation appropriately.

  14. Megan We on June 22nd, 2020 2:51 pm

    WHY IS UNF NOT INVESTIGATING THIS SEXUAL ASSAULT?

  15. M. Velez on June 23rd, 2020 10:03 pm

    Just so everyone knows, he may have gotten removed from his position but he still has a job. He was only relocated and demoted 2 ranks. So no Amanda, the punishment does not fit the crime. I may have not been a witness to this specific incident, but I personally know he wasn’t a good a person as you may think so don’t go writing bs on the internet if you don’t even know.

  16. Krysta on June 24th, 2020 2:52 pm

    You cannot continue to tell women to speak up about their assaults, if you’re going to continue to not do anything about it. DO SOMETHING.

  17. Chris Gauron on June 30th, 2020 10:28 am

    I can personally attest to the same treatment by UNF senior management that goes straight to the top as to how civil rights complaints are not only mishandled, but actually discouraged with retaliation. The UNF Office of Equity and Inclusion is simply a coddling space designed to discourage you from complaining outside the university. Good for her, I will be following her example. There is deep rooted systemic discrimination in the FLSUS and UNF might be the very worst example. It has deep Jim Crow segregation roots and regulations that continue to this day. If you are a transfer student, check your free electives that transfer and become part of your GPA – UNF is the only school doing this and it intentionally undermines State Access to Education Statutes – see definition credit BOE Rule 6A10.033.

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UNF ROTC student claims university mishandled sexual misconduct case