Student activism sparks changes in University policy

Lincy Pompilus, junior in LAS, was sexually assaulted by a resident advisor in a dorm over a year and a half ago — and there is not a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about it. 

Since the attack, anxiety cripples her every move. She questions her safety during daily activities, from walking to class to hanging out with friends. She constantly dances with the threat of potentially running into her alleged perpetrator, who is still present on campus.

The alleged perpetrator was found guilty of sexual misconduct as defined in the Student Code of Conduct in the Spring of 2014 and was dismissed for a full academic year. But, after a year away from campus, the alleged perpetrator petitioned for reinstatement and is currently attending the University again.

“There’s not a day that I don’t make a decision that is not informed by (the perpetrator’s) presence,” Pompilus said. “It’s the driving force behind the things that I do on a daily basis.”

Fed up with what she described as faults within the University’s disciplinary system, Pompilus wrote an open letter about her sexual assault to Chancellor Phyllis Wise on April 21.

Within hours of posting the letter on Facebook, which gained more than 200 shares, Wise emailed her to set up a meeting. Pompilus said they met Monday, and Wise discussed new policies and initiatives to prevent sexual assault, as well as new programs to improve the disciplinary system for sexual offenders, all of which will go into effect next fall. 

One improvement which was discussed in their meeting was the creation of a new, separate section under the Student Code of Conduct titled “sexual misconduct” which was created by the Urbana-Champaign Senate Committee on Student Discipline.

The current Student Code of Conduct does not have a separate section for sexual misconduct and the disciplinary procedures for sexual misconduct are handled on a case-by-case basis, said Justin Brown, interim associate dean of students and interim director for the Office for Student Conflict Resolution.

The new section will detail specific procedures that must be followed in a student’s disciplinary case for sexual misconduct, Brown said. 

If a student is found in violation of the Student Code of Conduct they are given a sanctioned period of time in which they are not in attendance at the University. But the student can petition for reinstatement into the University after the sanctioned period of time and after meeting other assigned requirements set out by the ruling committee, such as community service or completing an educational course.

“Under this new section the victim will now have a right to participate in the petitioning process when their perpetrator seeks reinstatement,” said Brown.

No matter what the offense is, expulsion is not a disciplinary option at the University.

“Even if we don’t believe a student would ever be able to successfully petition back to the University, we still have to put some time frame into it — that’s just the nature of the sanction,” Brown said.

In Pompilus’ open letter, she explained her experience, and the faults within the current disciplinary system that allowed her perpetrator to petition to return to the University while she was still attending. 

The perpetrator petitioned only a semester after being found guilty of violating the Student Code, according to an email from the former director of the Office for Student Conflict Resolutions, which was obtained by The Daily Illini from Pompilus.

Under the rules of conduct within the Student Code, the committee decided the alleged perpetrator violated Student Code/1-302.b.1 and Student Code/1-302.b.2.

The sections deem that “any form of sexual penetration without consent” and “any intentional or knowing touching or fondling by either person, directly or through clothing, of the sex organs, buttocks or breasts of either person for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal of either person without consent,” are prohibited behaviors and violate the code.

Despite being found in violation of these codes, the perpetrator’s petition was successful and the perpetrator returned to the University this spring, while Pompilus still has a year and a half until she completes her degree.

After being told there was nothing she could do to prevent her perpetrator from being on the same campus as her, Pompilus accepted that “justice” wasn’t possible for her individual case through the University.

Instead, Pompilus advocates for changes and improvements to the current disciplinary policy regarding sexual assault by working with members of the Illinois Student Senate. 

Hill and Pompilus have started the discussion on campus and are proposing that if an individual performs any act of sexual misconduct, he or she should not be allowed to initiate the petition process until after the survivor has graduated. 

“Having to confront your perpetrator on campus is not a supportive nor a safe environment that we want any student to be in,” said Matt Hill, vice president-external for the Illinois Student Senate.

But while Hill’s and Pompilus’ proposal has gained a great deal of traction with the student body, enforcing it could be difficult because of the case-by-case basis that determines the outcome, said Kaamilyah Abdullah-Span, senior associate director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Access.

“Sexual assault is not black and white,” Abdullah-Span said.

There are many factors that the committees must take into consideration when a sanction is issued and the hearing body ultimately determines the outcome based on the evidence.

“I don’t think we are at a point unequivocally that a student can’t return until the victim has graduated, and again, because there are a number of factors that go into that,” Abdullah-Span said.

The campus community will continue their efforts to improve the disciplinary system for sexual misconduct cases next semester.

While Pompilus said she feels the University did not deliver justice with her case, her activism and the widespread support she has received in response to her letter has motivated her to finally file official charges against her alleged perpetrator with the University Police Department on Wednesday.

“Don’t let anyone tell how you should feel, act or react or even anything pertaining to your case. Unless they’re supportive — no one else’s thoughts matter,” Pompilus said. “I want to help create policies that could help thousands of people, rather than just myself.”

Editor’s Note

The Daily Illini contacted the alleged perpetrator described in this article, but the perpetrator did not feel comfortable providing comment. A Freedom of Information Act request was filed, but information is protected by the involved students’ Family Education Rights and Privacy Act rights.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s