A year after UW-Madison student Beau Solomon drowned in the Tiber River in the summer of 2016, his family sued John Cabot University in Rome, sparking a discussion about students’ safety while studying abroad.
The lawsuit claims JCU acted with “reckless indifference,” and asserts the university “failed to inform both Solomon and UW-Madison that four young adults had died within 350 yards of the university from 2014-’15,” according to an earlier article from The Daily Cardinal.
JCU has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
Solomon is the only recorded death of a UW-Madison student studying abroad from 2011 to the present, according to the UW-Madison Crimes Abroad Report filed by the International Division. But he is far from the only student to be the victim of a crime while traveling across the globe.
According to the report, 45 crimes have been filed in the same six-year period. While only four of these reportedly occurred at JCU — two aggravated assaults, one robbery and Solomon’s death — questions arose regarding the safety and reporting practices of the university following the lawsuit’s filing.
A UW-Madison student who wished to remain anonymous told The Daily Cardinal she was drugged at an Italian bar, Sloppy Sam’s, while studying at JCU. She suspected someone slipped roofies, a date rape drug, in her drink.
This crime does not appear in the Crimes Abroad Report. Steven Barcus, director of communications for UW-Madison’s International Division, did not answer as to why this incident was not included in the data. But he said the International Academic Programs office abides by guidelines under the Clery Act — a federal law implemented at institutions of higher education that specifies which campus-related crimes must be reported. They work with the on-campus Clery Program Office to determine which incidents meet the act’s reporting guidelines.
Sloppy Sam’s is one of three bars (the others being G Bar and Drunken Ship) in Rome frequented by traveling students. The student sipped on five drinks spread out over a five-hour span, but said she felt “completely sober” before she blacked out. Eventually, she, along with her roommate and several friends, decided to take shots at the bar. The student said she remembers the fifteen minutes following, and then nothing.
The student’s only knowledge of following events was told to her by friends. Those friends told the student she was dropped off at their apartment by an unknown man, who authorities did not attempt to identify, and just barely managed to get into her apartment with help from an English-speaking, on-call resident assistant. She woke up with a swollen ankle and scratches on her shoulder, but no recollection of the previous evening.
The day after the incident, the RA on call told her she had to file a formal statement for the incident and that the student was required to meet with Deanna Wylie Mayer, dean of students and director of housing and residential life at JCU. Mayer offered counseling help to the student and got her in touch with a doctor in case she wanted to be evaluated (she waited to get back to the U.S. to be screened for sexually transmitted infections — the results were negative).
The student said Mayer told her she would contact UW-Madison and report the incident. UW-Madison did not receive a report about this student’s incident from JCU, according to spokesperson Meredith McGlone.
“In the beginning of the program [JCU] told us that if anything happens they would report back to whatever your home school was,” the anonymous UW-Madison student said. “But I didn’t get contacted by UW or anything about it.”
Mayer could not confirm whether she had filed the anonymous student’s report, as she said sharing information about a specific case without the victim’s consent would violate the student’s privacy rights.
One Big Ten school severs ties with JCU
Following Solomon’s death, the University of Iowa discontinued its study abroad affiliation agreement with JCU, though school officials did not cite the incident as reason for the discontinuation.
“We made this decision out of concern for the safety of students who go out at night in the Trastevere area,” UI spokesperson Tom Snee said in an email.
According to UI’s statistics, two of their students have died abroad in the last 10 years.
One of them was Andrew Mogni, who experienced a similar fate to Solomon’s in 2015 when he took “a severe fall” into the Tiber River during his first day at John Cabot. The accident left Mogni in a coma and he succumbed to his injuries three months later.
The anonymous UW-Madison student’s incident also ended at the Tiber River, where they were found by the man who drove them to their apartment.
The Solomon family’s lawsuit accuses JCU of “knowing the surrounding area was dangerous and neglecting to inform the students.” The surrounding area refers to the Tiber River, where Solomon’s body was found. JCU refutes the claims brought about by Solomon’s parents.
“We provide comprehensive safety messaging to all of our students,” Mayer said in an email. “All students, not just Americans, are advised and provided with practical ways to exercise caution.”
The Daily Cardinal asked why UW-Madison remains affiliated with JCU, and if there have been talks to disaffiliate like UI. McGlone said:
UW-Madison looks at a broad range of data and information to be confident that a specific study abroad program can sufficiently mitigate risks by virtue of arrival orientation and training, providing secure lodging conditions, peer advisors, etc. With students’ and employees’ well-being in mind, UW-Madison actively assesses risk and monitors not only events abroad but also trends and analysis provided by U.S. public agencies and their departments. Additionally, we are in nearly constant contact with peer colleges and universities as we assess a wide variety of risks that may face our students and employees abroad.
Barcus and McGlone said UW-Madison gives students location-specific safety information in orientation before departure. McGlone added that students are directed to federal sites with safe traveler programs and all UW System study-abroad policies are consistent with the standards of the Forum on Education Abroad.
Mayer detailed the numerous programs designed to educate international and degree-seeking JCU students about safety on campus and in the surrounding area. After arriving in Rome, students attend a health and well-being workshop that focuses on alcohol education, along with other orientation workshops. Students are also encouraged to take other security measures, like downloading a safety app onto their phones.
The JCU dean said it is not uncommon to see Sloppy Sam’s and two other bars on the Tiber River cited in incident reports — JCU officials said they warn students during orientation against frequenting this area.
McGlone said UW-Madison also partakes in ensuring and monitoring students’ safety while they are abroad. Barcus added the university monitors events abroad, as well as “actively assess[ing] risks” and trends reported by U.S. public agencies to maintain students’ well-being.
“Though our immediate concern is to resolve the incident to best support the affected student, we also consider each incident as input to our site and program assessment,” Barcus said. “The data also helps inform what we share with students during pre-travel orientation and training.”
The anonymous student attended JCU a little less than a year after Solomon was killed near the university. She said no one mentioned his death to new JCU students.
However, Solomon’s death has not been forgotten. McGlone said discovery of further details surrounding the tragedy would allow for more safety measures for students, particularly in the JCU area.
“Beau Solomon’s death was a tragic loss for his family and our campus community,” McGlone said in an email. “If additional information about this situation comes to light, we will proactively evaluate how it might impact our safety practices.”
Maggie Chandler contributed to the reporting for this story.
UPDATE Oct.2 at 1:34 p.m.: This article was updated to provide additional clarity of Clery Act's role in university records not accounting for the anonymous student's incident at JCU.