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Sociology Department TA placed in non-teaching role after sexual harassment allegations

UW-Madison released records Monday detailing 20 sexual assault harassment cases that have come up in the last 10 years.

Sociology Department TA placed in non-teaching role after sexual harassment allegations

Chancellor Blank says complaints and investigations will probably increase as university cracks down

A teaching assistant in the Sociology Department has been put in a non-teaching role and will leave the university at the end of the academic year after additional concerns about their conduct — following a sexual harassment case — arose again this fall.

These emails come after multiple news organizations sought information on complaints and investigations of sexual harassment at the university in the last 10 years via open records request. The university released those files to the public Monday along with a blog post from Chancellor Rebecca Blank addressed to the campus community.

In the case involving the now non-teaching TA, the department held a meeting with him in May 2017 to talk about his behavior but ultimately “took action outside of the formal disciplinary process” and placed him in the new role, UW Spokesperson Meredith McGlone said.

An email from September 12, 2017, from an anonymous sender claimed they knew three other people who the TA discovered on Tinder and that he “messaged them non stop with inappropriate messages to the point where they had to block him from the app to make him stop.”

“Every single person who mentions his name is, “I know someone else he has sent inappropriate messages to.” and he’s sent these messages to me, too,” the email said. “You can’t deny this is a pattern that will continue to happen over and over again. I am angry, concerned and appalled that he is still TAing. HE IS PREYING ON YOUNG WOMEN AND IS A PREDATOR.”

McGlone said the university responded to all of the people who came forward with concerns and offered to investigate but they declined.

In another email from July 17, 2017, the anonymous sender said their co-worker sent information to the Dean of Students Office but didn’t receive a response. The sender added that another co-worker of theirs said they were a victim.

“This man is a sexual predator and has made MULTIPLE unwanted advances toward FRESHMEN girls. even myself, he has “snap chatted” and asked me at 2-3am to Come over to his home,” the email said. “After myself even making it clear i wasn’t interested, he continued to chat me at early hours in the morning to come over to his home.”

McGlone clarified that the co-worker did get a response from the Title IX Coordinator, adding that the Dean of Students Office referred the case to the coordinator as is standard practice.

"It's likely that the anonymous sender and/or the co-worker simply may not have realized that that's how such complaints are handled," McGlone said.

This is only the more recent of two cases.

There was another case against a different Sociology TA, who has since graduated. The victim’s parent called Howie Stensrud, case manager in the Division of Student Life, the documents show.

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The student said she was getting text messages from the Sociology TA after the term ended asking her out. She did not have contact with the TA during the semester.

“In discussion with the department chair of sociology it was revealed that this is a pattern and not the first time there has been a concern with XXX in regards to inappropriate contact with students in courses he was an instructor in,” Stensrud said in his report in 2016.

The same TA was also reported again in a Campus Incident Reporting Form in April 2017. According to documentation, an undergraduate woman said that in an earlier semester he forced her to have sex with him.

“After this, he would say “weird things” in class and then look at her, making her uncomfortable,” the report states. “It appears that ultimately, XXX made her grade contingent upon having sex with him.”

A letter of reprimand from Pamela Oliver, Conway-Bascom Professor and chair of the department, was sent to the TA in June 2015 after he invited three female students via email to a concert. The correspondence stated that Oliver felt that it was “an isolated incident that does not represent a hostile environment problem.”

“From speaking with you, I believe that you now understand why your actions were problematic and that you will not repeat them,” the letter stated. “I do need to warn you that if there is any recurrence of any action that could be construed as sexual harassment or violations of other campus policies, we will be unable to employ you as any instructional capacity in the future.”

The 20 cases from the last decade had varying results, Blank said in her post Monday. While in some cases investigators found there wasn’t enough evidence of a violation, in other instances perpetrators were found responsible and “faced action up to and including termination.”

As a result, departments provided more training for faculty, staff and students at a systematic level, according to the blog post. Blank said that the number of sexual harassment complaints and investigations will only increase as the university strengthens its efforts.

“Title IX Responsible Employees” — those who inform the coordinator about sexual misconduct reports — will receive more mandatory training this summer, she said. UW System faculty and staff will also only receive a two percent wage bump if they finished their sexual harassment prevention training, among other requirements.

Blank’s comments come after UW-Madison saw an increase of over 100 sexual assault reports, a university official said in March.

The number of sexual assaults reported to a campus resource rose from 217 reports in 2015 to 325 in 2016. This more than doubles the increase between 2014 and 2015, when the number of reports rose by only 45.

In January, the UW System and UW-Madison released records showing that across the UW System, about 100 complaints of employee sexual harassment and assaults were formally investigated since 2014.

With the exception of UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, over half of the complaints filed claimed professors sexually harassed students. But according to UW System spokesperson Stephanie Marquis, there were “a number of cases” where no violation was found.

Still, Blank said she was optimistic about the progress the university has made and emphasized that students can get the help they need.

“Here at UW, our efforts to combat sexual harassment began before the issue made headlines and I assure you they will continue,” Blank said. “I am encouraged by the momentum we are seeing and deeply appreciate the efforts of the students, staff and faculty who are committed to helping our campus move forward on this issue.”

Nina Bertelsen contributed to this report.

UPDATE April 10, 11:08 a.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that the sender of the July 2017 email said that their co-worker sent information to the Dean of Students Office and didn't receive a response, UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone clarified that they received a response from the Title IX Coordinator.

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