Reporting Sexual Misconduct at NYUAD

Stories, facts and realities of sexual misconduct at NYU Abu Dhabi.

May 06, 2018

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“I woke up the next morning, and I knew something wasn’t right — I had some memory, but not a lot,” Anita* recalls.

In the next few days after the party, Anita tried unsuccessfully to piece together the events of the previous night. She reached out to the person she had spent time with that evening, but his silence confused her even more. Her unease only deepened when she confronted him in person and he dismissed her, refusing to explain himself.

Anita continued to question her own memory. Finally, after three days had passed and nothing made sense anymore, she took her best friend along to talk to Tina Wadhwa, Associate Director of the Health Promotion Office.

“He convinced me that it was my fault,” Anita said. “And so I walked out of [the encounter with him] thinking that I'm crazy… And here's where reporting came in handy.”

At NYUAD, when students choose to bring an incident of sexual misconduct to the attention of the Health Promotion Office, they can choose whether to report it officially. Once a report is filed with NYU, the complainant may request that the matter remain private or that no investigation be conducted. Anita recalls that she had complete control over which option to choose.

The investigation process, broken down in this flowchart, entails working closely with the Title IX office in NYU New York, following the procedures pertinent to the particular case. Anita, who found other ways to come to terms with her experience, felt that the lengthy process was not the path she wanted to take.

“[I was told] I will have to tell my side of the story,” she said. “There will be lawyers involved. It will go on for three or four months possibly ... and there will be a panel of six or seven lawyers from New York. ... I will have to tell my story again and again and again. [Wadhwa] told me, Look, we're looking at you saying this story [several times], because they make you tell this story so many times to find out if your story has discrepancies.”

Wadhwa said she strongly disagreed with the way Anita* recalled her role and the reporting process. “Very broadly, I do provide context for what the Title IX complaint process looks like to both complainants and respondents so they are informed and prepared for the process. The first step of that process is a conversation with a representative of the Title IX office in New York, and at no point in the process is there a panel of … lawyers,” she said, although the investigators within the Title IX office often have legal backgrounds. “It is certainly true that during the process, it is likely that both the complainant and respondent will need to tell their version of events several times, however, it is not with the intent to identify "discrepancies,” but because they are meeting with different individuals involved with the process, and each step requires that the underlying incident be discussed.” A detailed description of the process Wadhwa pointed to can be found online.

Even though Anita chose to deal with the experience in her own personal way instead of mounting an investigation, she was still able to benefit from certain Title IX protections simply because she reported the incident to NYU's Title IX office. When the Title IX office found out that her grades had been impacted by the incident, they offered Anita the chance to retake an exam and improve her grade, even an entire semester later.

Other students, however, have elected to go the official route. For Rhea*, who was involved in a misconduct case with a university employee on campus, the reporting process took a different turn, especially given the employee status of the perpetrator.

After recounting her story twice, once one-on-one with Wadhwa and then to a bigger group of more personnel, the case was classified as assault and formally investigated. Even though Rhea did not request it, an official investigation was made so as to protect other students and community members from the perpetrator. Evidence from CCTV footage substantiated Rhea’s claim and helped solidify her narrative of the event.

Once found guilty, the employee’s contract was immediately terminated. Before leaving the university, he had to certify in writing that he would never come close to the victim again, nor would he take any retaliatory actions against her.

While Wadhwa is able to provide detailed information about the policy and procedures related to a sexual misconduct violation, as she did in the the cases of both Anita and Rhea, she also serves as a private but non-confidential source of support. Since it is not under Wadhwa’s purview to classify reported cases as being in violation of policy, any case that is brought to her notice is reported to Mary Signor, the Title IX coordinator based in New York.

Confidential sources of support at NYUAD include the Health & Wellness doctors and counselors and the Wellness Exchange, both of whom students can reach out to if they are unsure about where their experience stands in relation to NYU’s sexual misconduct policy. The official recommendation, as written in the Sexual Respect page on the NYUAD Student Portal, is that complainants reach out to these confidential sources before Wadhwa or any other non-confidential source.

Although statistics about the NYUAD campus regarding sexual misconduct are limited, U.S. colleges show an alarming picture of the proportions of the issue we are dealing with. Based on statistics from a National Campus Climate Survey in Spring of 2016 at NYUNY, 20.1 percent of female undergraduates and 8.8 percent of male undergraduates experienced a nonconsensual sexual experience in the last 12 months. Overall, 9.7 percent of females and 5 percent of males experienced nonconsensual penetrative sex. More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims do not report the incidences to authorities, according to the National Resource Center for Sexual Violence. NYUAD is no stranger to this culture of underreporting.

“I believe underreporting is … not necessarily because students are scared of the system per se, or that they are scared of going to Mary or going to Tina ... most of the time people just don’t know what constitutes a sexual assault or sexual misconduct,” said Nela Noll, Class of 2019.

In November 2017, Noll, a member of the Campus Life Policy Committee, took the initiative to develop an unofficial manual for NYUAD students that outlined the resources available for students and gave a basic summary of NYU’s global policies on sexual misconduct, relationship violence and stalking.

“There was a lot of confusion about what to do after an incident, what happens at this university, so we wanted to make a clearer and stronger statement about the realms of support that the university can offer as there is more concern [about] this problem at the university. I felt that no one was going to go access the Student Portal for this information after an incident, or maybe if they [did], we didn’t think … that it was the right way to approach the situation,” said Noll.

The report was circulated via email and Facebook student groups, but was not formally published.

“The manual as it is could be published within the UAE, but it would’ve just had to go through [a] Legal [procedure], through Public Affairs and through like 500 offices. So we decided to just do an unofficial one,” added Noll.

One report from NYUAD that is available to the public is the Fire and Safety Report, which is published every October by the NYU Department of Public Safety. Given that NYUAD is part of NYU, the university is compelled by the Clery Act and the Higher Education Opportunity Act to compile and publish statistics on crime reported on and around NYU campuses.

The most recent report, published in October 2017, included a table detailing the crime statistics on campus. Most categories on the table conspicuously reported 0 cases — 0 cases of dating violence, for example — except for a select few. Sexual Assault was one of those categories, with three cases reported in total.

Many students found issue with this reportage, especially since these incidents do not require confirmation through a formal investigation to appear in the report. They cited a discrepancy between the reported statistics and the lived experiences of students on campus. One explanation for this inconsistency is that the criteria by which the Clery Act defines rape and fondling are generic and stringent — an incident like forcible kissing, for example, would not make its way to the Fire and Safety Report.

The same semester that this report was released, more conversations began to come out of the woodwork. An anonymous post on one of NYUAD’s Facebook groups alleged that a professor had recently been given tenure despite being accused of inappropriate behavior by multiple students, prompting a campus-wide conversation about sexual misconduct at NYUAD and the reporting procedures. Many students, both current and past, responded with questions and comments about the reporting process as they saw it.

To this end, Wadhwa stated that the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) working group is guiding the DEI strategy at NYUAD, including a comprehensive awareness plan for faculty, staff and students.

“Our efforts since the start of the academic year have continued to grow, including facilitating sessions for the Faculty Council Steering Committee, rolling out Consent Zone training to both students and staff, and building more aligned and strategic efforts as a result of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group…. In addition, recently all NYU faculty and staff were informed of a new requirement to complete an online module that will better inform them of university policies related to sexual misconduct, relationship violence and stalking,” said Wadhwa.

Student groups like REACH, in collaboration with Wadhwa’s office, have expanded their programming to include Consent Zone training along with the already extant Bystander Intervention training and Consent Dialogues in order to engage and inform students through discussion. Over the last few semesters, members of REACH have endeavored to make students feel supported and informed about NYU’s official policies towards sexual misconduct.

Some students feel that such education modules are good starting points but fail to capture the complexity of the circumstances in which these incidents occur.

“I feel that [the initiatives] have been useful and effective, but for a limited scope of students. This semester, Consent Dialogues had a disappointingly low turn out … There have been ongoing demands to make conversations about sexual respect and consent a mandatory element of Marhaba programming, but that will be up to us as students to voice and bring to the administration,” said Laura Assanmal, Class of 2021 and member of REACH.

Given the sensitive nature of this subject and case-by-case variation of procedures, conversations around sexual misconduct policies at NYUAD have either been misinformed or underinformed. The future of this conversation depends on the student body itself.

Note: Some names have been changed due to requesting anonymity

Correction: May 7, 2018

Correction: May 16, 2018

A previous version of this article appeared to imply reporting misconduct was a singular action, it can instead take several different forms

Additional Reporting by Jakob Plaschke, Paula Estrada, Tom Klein, Hannah Taylor, Kristina Stankovic, Carlos Escobar, Karolina Wilczynska and Connor Pearce

Karma Gurung is Editor-at-Large and Shreya Shreeraman is Senior Features Editor. Email them at [email protected]

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