Behind the systems: Facebook post incites administrative action
This story is the third section of a four-part investigative project from an advanced reporting course taught by Betsy O’Donovan. We contacted DeShaun Dowdy multiple times to set up an interview to provide him a chance to respond to the allegations being made in this series. Dowdy declined to comment.
Content Warning: sexual assault.
The Office of Student Life
Rules are made for a reason. Behind every official policy and procedure, there is a purpose – whether that is to enforce disciplinary measures or maintain the safety of others.
With that said, Western’s policies and procedures have befell public scrutiny following a post on social media.
Michael Sledge, Western’s assistant dean of students, sent DeShaun Troy Dowdy an email on Jan. 3, 2019 saying he had been placed on a temporary suspension. The email came three days after the Lindsay Noel’s Facebook post.
In the email provided by Dowdy, Sledge explained the interim suspension included a trespass from all of campus. He said the behavior Dowdy was accused of on social media, if true, violated three sections of the student code of conduct.
The Office for Student Life is in place to hold students who engage in misconduct or violate Western’s Student Conduct Code accountable. Sledge said the most common violations include using alcohol, drugs or disruptive behavior.
The conduct process starts when a report or complaint is made about a possible violation.
“In that case, a conduct officer takes the complaint that comes into our office and contacts the people who are involved,” Sledge said.
A conduct officer must give the reporting party at least three days’ notice for a meeting. When there is reason to believe that a student is an immediate danger to the safety of Western’s community, Sledge said they can impose a temporary suspension.
Sledge said the reporting party and the accused party have the same rights during the investigation. When a student is placed on interim suspension, they have the right to a conduct meeting between three to seven business days, but making a statement is voluntary.
“You can’t avoid action through the student conduct code by simply withdrawing. People have the impression they can withdraw and then just come back two quarters later. That’s not the case,” Sledge said.
Once the conduct officer decides whether there is a code violation, they contact the people involved about their findings. Then, sanctions are implemented.
“This is an educational institution, so our sanctions are going to be geared toward helping people learn from their past mistakes,” Sledge said. “It’s different when it’s really egregious and involves any kind of violence, but we’re thinking about most violations of the code that don’t rise to the level of violence.”
Western’s Student Code of Conduct also prohibits sexual discrimination, including sexual misconduct. However, these violations are investigated by another office on campus: the Equal Opportunity Office under Title IX.
Further explanation of the EOO’s official policies and procedures will continue in the fourth section of this series.
Read the other stories in this series
A university police car parked near the library, blue light call boxes in the parking lot and fire extinguishers in every building. These campus safety precautions may melt into the background for students leading busy lives, until they feel unsafe.
Western has offices, policies and procedures in place to keep students safe. But how does Western’s University Police fit into the equation?
At the start of a conduct investigation, the dean of students can place a student on interim suspension if the student poses an immediate threat to campus safety.
Despite the language in the policy, Michael Sledge, the assistant dean of students, said he is tasked with imposing interim measures. When a student is temporarily suspended, they are also trespassed from all of campus by the Office of Student Life.
It’s important to note the two kinds of trespasses that can be given: administrative and criminal.
According to Darin Rasmussen, chief of University Police, UP does not get involved with administrative trespasses. If an administrative trespass is issued, it’s possible that UP wouldn’t be notified unless there is violent or criminal activity.
“It’s always better if we are [notified] because then if we get called we know what footing we’re on,” he said. “Sometimes people will think, ‘If the police show up he’s going to get arrested.’”
If university officers see an individual on campus in violation of their trespass, they will remind the student of their status and inform the assistant dean of students. For an administrative trespass, Rasmussen said there would not be an arrest.
In contrast, criminal trespasses officially notify an individual that they are not allowed to be in a certain area of campus based on their previous behavior, he said. For them to be in that area is a crime, which could lead to an arrest.
Rasmussen said although unlikely, a student could receive a criminal trespass. Usually student behavior is addressed through the Student Code in the Dean of Students Office. Rasmussen said UP almost exclusively uses trespasses for members of the community, outside of the university.
“By being students, you have more rights to access the campus than someone who’s not a student,” he said.
Rasmussen currently assumes the role of director of public safety, making him the president’s designee for lifting a criminal trespass.
Western’s UP does not have a written policy for how to impose criminal trespasses, Rasmussen said. It is up to the discretion of the responding officers.
“The officers are able to assess the totality of the circumstances at the time and if [the situation] warrants a criminal trespass,” he said. A person who has received a criminal trespass can appeal to the director.
Before university officers trespass someone, Rasmussen said they will usually give the individual a warning depending on the seriousness of the behavior — merely acting strangely doesn’t make the cut.
“It’s not a crime to act unusually. College campuses are full of people who act unusual,” he said. “What’s this person doing? Is it a crime? Is it dangerous? … If the answer is no, then that’s how [the case] gets closed out.”
In situations where officers must assess an individual’s overall safety risk to the community or to themselves, Rasmussen says they are constantly trying to evaluate the situation and balance the rights of the individual versus the rights of the community. Once someone is criminally trespassed, he said that information is entered into a computer system and flagged so that if they are contacted on campus the existence of the trespass status is made known to University Police.
DeShaun Troy Dowdy, a Western student, was given an administrative trespass on Jan. 3, 2019 after he was accused of being a “sexual predator and dangerous” in a Facebook post at the end of December 2018.
Editor’s Note: Per university policy, Western’s administration does not answer questions about specific cases or students. The following information was obtained careful reporting.
Reporting contributed by Julia Phillips.