Arizona State University Thinks Expulsion is “Too Severe” a Punishment for Rape

On March 31, Arizona State University student Brooke Lewis was raped by another student. Afterward, she reported the assault to the police, who are conducting an ongoing investigation, as well as ASU’s Title IX team—which found the assaulter responsible for sexual misconduct and called for his expulsion. In a rare instance, however, the university hearing board is arguing against its own institution’s advice.

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Calling Lewis’ rapist an essential member of a research team, the board declared that his 3.9 GPA is reason enough to excuse him for his behavior and let him continue to attend ASU; they ruled that being expelled for raping his classmate is “too severe” a punishment, and recommended instead that Lewis’ attacker receive a two-year suspension and be forced to take a course on sexual misconduct.

The assaulter—who is being referred to as James—also pushed back against the Title IX administrator’s call for his expulsion. He appealed the university’s initial decision, arguing that the school had little evidence and calling Lewis’ claims “unsubstantiated allegations.” To no doubt make his misconduct seem out of character, James also thought it important to release a statement speaking to his support of women’s rights. “I am an advocate of gender equality, including equal opportunity, equal pay for equal work and access to essential, basic healthcare for women,” he wrote, warning seconds later, however, that “there is an over-compensation where the pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction and creates another injustice.”

College students nationwide know all too well that the pendulum isn’t swinging in that direction—especially at ASU. Jasmine Lester, founder of the university group Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault, noted in an email to Ms. that only 1.69 percent of reported cases of rape and sexual harassment—or 62 of 3,660 cases—were charged during the last full school year, “leaving thousands of reported sexual predators free to reoffend without consequence.” She added that ASU has a troubling history of inaction on this issue, tracing back at least five years and undoubtedly more. “ASU has been under federal investigation for violating Title IX since 2012,” Lester told Ms., “has been sued multiple times for protecting rapists and made national news for protecting faculty sexual predators in 2014.”

The landscape Lewis faces shows little signs of progress. Staff and administrators have mistreated her, according to reports from her peers, and the school has failed to provide her with adequate academic and mental health accommodations in the wake of her rape.

“Even before Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos scaled back Title IX guidelines this year for handling instances of rape and sexual violence, students weren’t adequately protected from sexual assault on college campuses,” Michele Sleighel, an organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation’s CHOICES Campus Leadership Program, told Ms. “Reporting, investigative and disciplinary processes are often confusing and inadequate, which can discourage students from coming forward. Now that the federal government has abandoned students who survive sexual assault on campuses, student leaders are making their voices heard as they demand protection for themselves and their communities.”

The final decision on James’s punishment is in the hands of Senior Vice President for Educational Outreach and Student Services, James Rund—who was given less than 20 business days to consider the appeal board’s recommendation and decide whether or not to uphold the university’s expulsion. (That leaves him, at time of publishing, with around a week to decide.) Lester’s group is spearheading a petition to Rund demanding that he expel Lewis’ attacker.

FMF’s campus organizers stand in solidarity with Lewis and the student activists rallying at her side. “Sexual predators do not belong on college campuses,” Sleighel declared. “Period.”



Lynn Rosado is an editorial intern at Ms. She studied at California State University, Northridge, where she received her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism.