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Friday, July 3, 2020

Former Huxley student frustrated with how Western handled sexual harassment case

By Asia Fields

Content warning: sexual harassment

Stirling Scott, the student who reported Huxley associate professor Paul Stangl for sexual harassment, did everything Western tells students to do in these situations.

She went to the Equal Opportunity Office (twice) to report him and provide her story.

However, the first investigation found that Stangl’s behavior was inappropriate but not severe enough to be considered sexual harassment, according to the EOO’s final report. And even after a second investigation resulted in a finding of sexual harassment, according to EOO documents, Stangl is still teaching at Western.

In fact, Stangl was approved to serve on the Faculty Senate Library Committee in January and still serves on the Huxley Policy Committee, the AS Review reported Monday, March 5. The faculty senate president and chair of the Senate Library Committee told the Review they were not aware of the sexual harassment case, despite a Western Front article published in November.

In July 2017, Brent Carbajal, provost and vice president for academic affairs, recommended discipline for Stangl to the dean of Huxley College. In an email obtained by the Front through a public records request, he recommended that Stangl should not teach courses summer 2018 or the travel field course for two summers.

He also said Stangl intended to enroll in professional development courses on ethics in the workplace and sexual harassment prevention training.

Paul Stangl // From Western’s website

Scott said she has been disappointed with Western, as she had to push for something to be done and the resulting punishment was minimal. She feels Western has protected Stangl.

In an email sent to campus in February, President Sabah Randhawa urged people to report sexual misconduct and harassment to the EOO.

Western’s policies with respect to sexual misconduct as a form of sex discrimination are unequivocal: this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and all reports will be investigated,” he said.

“Clearly not,” Scott said. “A zero-tolerance policy does not suggest such lenience.”

Since the Front’s article in November, Huxley students have expressed frustration with what they perceive as a lack of action on this issue from the college.

Environmental studies chair Gigi Berardi said in an email that the department’s equity and diversity committee is in the process of discussing issues of diversity, safety and inclusion.

Environmental science chair David Wallin said his department has been meaning to talk about sexual harassment policy and that it is on their agenda.

Stangl declined to comment, saying he was advised by university administration to refer questions to Paul Cocke, director of communications and marketing.

Huxley College Dean Steve Hollenhorst said he could not comment and also directed the Front to Cocke.

Cocke said he could not comment due to privacy issues concerning personnel.

There is no policy preventing Western employees from speaking directly to the Front. Also, personnel records in which sexual misconduct allegations result in a finding of wrongdoing are subject to public disclosure, as the Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2007, siding with The Seattle Times.

The Western Front does not identify survivors of sexual assault or harassment without their consent and is doing so with Scott’s permission.

What happened

Scott and another student were asked by Stangl to be teaching assistants for Stangl’s field course in San Francisco for June 2016, Scott said. The two of them arrived one day before the other students to prepare.

After meeting to discuss logistics over dinner, Stangl invited the two students up to his hotel room so they could continue talking, Scott said. When they later arrived at the room, Scott said Stangl appeared intoxicated. She said there were empty beer bottles and bottles of alcohol around the room, and that he offered the girls alcohol and pressured them to drink.

Scott was underage at the time. She said she mostly just held a glass of wine and sipped it, as she was uncomfortable. She said he told them not to tell anyone he was giving them alcohol, as he could get in trouble since she was a minor.

From there, Scott said he began to talk about his personal life and marriage. He said several times that he would marry her if he were 20 years younger and began to get emotional, which made it difficult to leave, Scott said.

Then, Scott said he made a comment about wanting to lick their thighs. She and the other teaching assistant left immediately after that, she said.

In his written responses to the EOO, Stangl said he did invite the students to his room and offered them alcoholic beverages, which he called a “terrible lapse of judgement,” but did not pour them drinks. He also admitted making the comment about wanting to marry Scott, saying he recognized it was inappropriate. He denied saying he wanted to lick their thighs, but admitted to making insensitive jokes.

Scott told the Front that she and the other teaching assistant specifically remember him not only making their drinks, but also pouring them more and spilling some on them when he did.

Frustrations with reporting and results

Scott said she did not report the incident right away, as she did not want to ruin the 10-day trip for the other students and was worried Stangl would find out while they were still in San Francisco. She waited until the next month to report to the EOO.

She met with Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, the vice provost for equal opportunity and employment diversity and Title IX coordinator, in July 2016. Scott said that at the time, she felt bad for Stangl and felt she held his career in her hands.

She decided to just report that he had given her alcohol and pressured her to drink and did not give all the details about his other behavior at first because of this, she told the Front. She said she thought reporting he gave alcohol to an underage student while in a hotel paid for by the university would be enough to get him fired.

“That’s what I would want to say to everyone. Regardless of what I did, it was his responsibility not to get drunk and say he wanted to lick our thighs. That should be obvious.”

Stirling Scott, former Western student

While she did not want to sign a complaint form herself, she told the EOO she wanted to make sure other students did not have a similar experience with him, according to EOO documents. The EOO initiated the investigation and signed the complaint form due to their obligation to look into the complaint, according to the documents.

Scott told the Front that she mentioned feeling bad for Stangl to the EOO, but that they did not address this.

“At that time, I didn’t want him to lose his job,” she said. “But I feel like the people working in Title IX should, out of everyone, be able to recognize that maybe I was being manipulated.”

She said she thinks that even if the EOO is not equipped to provide care for survivors, the staff needs to recognize this kind of emotional manipulation and address it.

Guenter-Schlesinger said the EOO does not comment on specific investigations. She said the EOO’s role is to be a neutral, third-party fact-finder and ensure due process for all parties.

She also said it takes all forms of sexual discrimination, including sexual harassment and violence, seriously and investigates with a trauma-informed and culturally-sensitive approach.

Scott said the EOO does not seem trauma-informed, as she did not feel heard and instead felt blamed and stressed during parts of the process.

After hearing Scott’s story, Guenter-Schlesinger’s first reaction was to lecture her about underage drinking, Scott said.

She said Guenter-Schlesinger told her she should wait until she was 21 to drink and spent a long time discussing that part of her story.

Whether she was drinking or not shouldn’t have mattered, Scott said.

“That’s what I would want to say to everyone. Regardless of what I did, it was his responsibility not to get drunk and say he wanted to lick our thighs. That should be obvious,” she said.

This was the beginning of what Scott describes as a negative experience working with the EOO. She said the process was long and stressful and that she felt like the staff doubted her.

When Stangl found out about the investigation, Scott said he called the other teaching assistant and asked if she knew who reported him. Stangl said he would lose his job and asked how Scott could do this to him, the other teaching assistant told Scott.

“He had no concept that what he did was wrong,” she said.

Stangl admitted to calling them and said while he responded “in a panic,” he did not intend to intimidate them, according to his written response. He said he was not aware of EOO policies that do not allow for contacting the reporting persons.

At the end of the first investigation, the EOO found that his behavior was inappropriate but not severe or pervasive enough to be considered sexual harassment, according to the final report.

Paul Stangl’s name plaque outside of his office at Western. // Photo by Taylor Nichols

However, it did find that he violated the Code of Faculty Ethics, which says faculty should avoid intimidation and exploitation of students. In the report, then-deputy Title IX coordinator Mohammed Cato said because of the power difference between faculty and students, Stangl’s actions can be seen as exploitative.

“That seems extreme to me to find a professor’s actions to be exploitative to students and then have no disciplinary measures,” Scott told the Front.

Guenter-Schlesinger said the EOO does not impose sanctions or discipline, but provides investigative reports. When the investigations were completed, they were sent to Carbajal to determine action in response to the findings.

Scott said that luckily, as Stangl was on a previously planned sabbatical, she did not have to see him before graduating spring 2017.

But in March, she was prompted to go back to the EOO after seeing fliers that said Stangl would be leading the same trip. She said she was fed up with what she saw as nothing being done and decided to give the full story to the EOO in a written statement.

This time, she also talked to a trusted university employee about the issue, who helped her talk to the EOO. She continued to meet with Cato every few weeks for the rest of the school year to provide clarification and proof, she said.

In June 2017, the EOO found a preponderance of evidence to support a finding of sexual harassment, according to EOO documents. The resulting discipline was to prevent him from teaching summer 2018 and from leading the field course for two summers, according to emails obtained by the Front.

Scott said people can change, but that Stangl shouldn’t be at Western, as she thinks he hasn’t had to prove that he has changed.

“I think it was inappropriate that he was allowed to go back to work as if nothing happened. I understand how that would make some students really uncomfortable,” she said.

Scott said when she was at Western, Stangl was the main professor for an intro to planning course, which a lot of Huxley students ended up taking.

“There’s a pretty big problem here. Whoever is making decisions isn’t prioritizing student safety. It doesn’t feel like they’re treating this with the proper respect.”

Stirling Scott, former Western student

This quarter, there is another professor also teaching this course, but Stangl’s course has more seats for students, according to Classfinder. He is also the only professor teaching this course on Western’s campus for spring quarter, according to Classfinder.

Scott sees her situation as part of a larger issue of how Western handles cases of sexual assault and harassment, as she had heard of mishandled cases throughout her years at Western.

“There’s a pretty big problem here. Whoever is making decisions isn’t prioritizing student safety,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like they’re treating this with the proper respect.”

The Western Front has reported on other cases in which Western has been criticized by students for mishandling sexual misconduct cases. In fall 2016, the Front reported that survivors said Western gave out light sanctions to perpetrators and that those in charge of investigations lacked sensitivity. In spring 2017, the Front reported on a student convicted of sexual assault being readmitted to the university, sparking campus outrage.

Huxley’s response

Huxley students have continued to express frustration with what they perceive as little change from Huxley following the revelation.

Huxley students organized a forum in December last year for students to express their concerns regarding the Stangl case. The event was suggested by environmental studies staff and run by students. Huxley College did not have a role in organizing the event, an organizer said.

There was also presentation put on by Consultation and Sexual Assault Support (CASAS) and Huxley in February.

At these events, students said there was a lack of communication and transparency from Huxley faculty and leadership, and that not much seemed to have changed.

“There’s been a huge lack of actual, explicit policy in our department on these topics,” Maeve Pickus, Western graduate student and member of Huxley’s Diversity and Community Affairs Committee, said at the CASAS workshop. “We have to acknowledge that a lot of these things happen where we’re not seeing it, and it’s intentionally in these alone situations.”

The environmental studies faculty met on Monday, March 5 to discuss this topic. A Huxley College main office staffer told the Front that the meeting was taking place in Arntzen Hall at 3 p.m. when asked at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, the day of the meeting. However, no one was in the room at that time.

The Front later verified that the department had actually reserved a room in the Viking Union from 2:30-5 p.m. on Monday, and that the reservation existed as of 8:15 a.m. Monday. The Front was not able to obtain comment on the room change or information discussed before the time of publication.

Editor’s note: Stirling Scott reached out to The Western Front because she wanted to share her story and frustrations with the process of reporting sexual harassment at Western. Details come from an interview with the Front, as well as EOO documents and emails obtained through a public records request.

The Western Front is reporting on sexual assault and harassment faced by members of the Western community. Fill out this form or email us at westernfrontonline@gmail.com if you want to share your story.

 

Updated 6:23 p.m. March 7: The initial article said Huxley organized the December forum. The article was updated to reflect that Huxley students ran the forum, and that Huxley College did not have a role in organizing it.

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