Rape culture is deeply ingrained in Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College, where professors sexually abuse students and the administration silences victims.
Five years after being sexually harassed by my Honors professor and betrayed by the administration that was supposed to protect me and other students, I joined a national movement to fight rape culture in higher education and formed Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault. Through my work, I learned of another student victim, Jane, who had been sexually abused by her Honors professor Dr. Joel Hunter.
Jane felt let down by ASU and Barrett failing to educate students about consent and rape culture, specifically that a professor’s power over a student’s grades and future makes mutual consent to romantic or sexual activity impossible. When Dr. Hunter seduced Jane, she was unable to recognize that he was sexually abusing her. He even used a colleague’s well-known sexual encounters with students to his advantage, asking Jane’s opinion of professors sleeping with students to gauge her vulnerability to abuse.
Over the course of a semester, Hunter exchanged explicit text messages with Jane, shared sexual fantasies of threesomes with her and other female students, had sex with Jane in his car and office, gave her preferential treatment with grades and letters of recommendation, and coerced her into performing oral sex on him.
When one of Hunter’s colleagues was fired for sleeping with students, Hunter reassured Jane that their relationship was consensual and his colleague’s termination was unfair. The relationship continued for the rest of the semester, and he ended it shortly after, claiming he hadn’t understood his job was at risk because so many Barrett professors have sex with students and get away with it (despite two of his colleagues being fired for it). When Jane was upset over the dissolution of their relationship, Hunter blamed her for her pain and made her feel obligated to protect him. She suffered in silence, saying, “I felt so hurt and violated that I cut my wrists and nearly killed myself.” Jane did not seek counseling or help from friends in order to protect Hunter.
It took nearly a year for Jane to understand that Hunter had exploited his power over her, and that her emotional agony came from being a victim of abuse and was not her fault. Aware of five other faculty predators in Barrett, and my and other students’ experiences of institutional betrayal, Jane went to two other professors for support. They told her that there was no rape culture in Barrett, that the administration “acts swiftly” in response to “substantiated complaints,” and that allegations against remaining faculty predators were “unsubstantiated rumors.” They reported Jane’s situation to the Barrett Deans without telling her and the Deans set up a meeting against her wishes, aware that she was not ready to report or give details. The meeting was supposedly to answer questions about reporting her abuse, but they refused to give answers without knowing details. Instead, they blamed and shamed Jane for the relationship, discouraged her from submitting crucial evidence, and emphasized that students who make “false allegations” are expelled.
Terrified to report to the Barrett Deans, Jane reported Dr. Hunter to ASU’s Title IX Coordinator Kamala Green. Green repeatedly interrupted Jane as she recounted the abuse, asked if the relationship made her “feel like a woman,” and focused on how Jane believed it was consensual at the time. Jane had to explain how a professor-student relationship is inherently abusive, because Green did not believe Jane was abused. Green was especially unhelpful answering Jane’s questions about how long the investigation would take and how the university would protect her from retaliation. When Jane asked how she would know if Dr. Hunter was fired and it was safe to return to Barrett, Green said Jane would not be notified but that she would “just know.” Jane felt that the stress and victim blaming of the reporting process extended her traumatization, making it difficult to progress in her recovery.
Dr. Joel B. Hunter was forced to leave Barrett at the end of March 2014 (but he is still on ASU’s payroll until his contract expires May 15, 2014). Jane was not immediately notified. She learned of Dr. Hunter’s absence when other professors took over his classes, two sections of which are now being taught by known and suspected sexual predators. The Barrett administration told Hunter’s former students that he left for a “personal issue,” and issued a threat to the faculty that ultimately discourages student victims and faculty witnesses from reporting sexual abuse, and empowers predators to silence their victims more effectively.
In February I joined Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW campaign, which focuses on the Department of Education’s enforcement of Title IX. My involvement with this coalition of survivor-activists and our collaboration with White House officials gives me hope for federal intervention to help ASU realize that protecting students from sexual violence is in the University’s best interest. Until then, Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault is here to remind survivors of sexual violence that they are not to blame, they are not alone, and we are fighting for them.