Feds investigate Rider, others

By Alexis Schulz

The federal Department of Education has opened an investigation into how Rider handles sexual assault and harassment complaints.

Rider is among other colleges and universities with open Title IX sexual violence investigations by the Office for Civil Rights. The U.S. Department of Education was investigating 106 colleges and universities as of April 1. The number of investigations is at a record high, almost doubling from less than a year ago when the Department of Education unveiled its list of ongoing inquiries.

Kristine Brown, interim assistant vice president for University Communications and Marketing, said the university is upholding its Title IX commitments and is aware of the situation at hand.

“Rider University is committed to building and maintaining an academic environment that is free from sexual violence, sexual harassment and discrimination and has worked tirelessly with the campus community to develop resources and processes that are effective, accessible, fair and equitable compliant with its obligations under Title IX,” she said in a statement.

When the Department of Education first disclosed the number of colleges under investigation the tally was 55 institutions. However, by January, the total had reached 94.

Rider’s investigation originated from a complaint, according to officials, but there are no details into how the complaint started.

“Rider University is aware of the complaint that was filed with the U.S. Department of Education,” Brown said. Dean of Students Anthony Campbell would not comment on the investigation.

There is no way of knowing if the complaint was sparked by the incidents this past fall 2015.

The first of four sexual offense instances on Rider’s campus happened on Sept. 11, when Hamilton Resident Jon Cannon, 24, allegedly entered an unlocked apartment in West Village B and touched a female visitor on the shoulder while she was sleeping in the common area. Then on Sept. 26, Cannon allegedly trespassed in the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority house. On Sept. 27, Cannon allegedly went into an unlocked apartment in West Village B and touched a female student’s breast while she was sleeping. Cannon was subsequently charged with criminal sexual contact, harassment/offensive touching and trespassing for these incidents.

On Oct. 18, the third sexual offense incident occurred between two students who were known to each other, and on Nov. 9 the fourth sexual offense occurred between two students who were also known to each other.

The Office of Civil Rights determines whether colleges are in violation of Title IX, which states that no person in the U.S. can be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, any education program or activity based on sex. All schools that receive federal funding can be held responsible for violating sexual assault and harassment guidelines.

Nearby Princeton University has been investigated for its handling of sexual assault complaints and was on the list released by the Department of Education. During 2014, the Office of Civil Rights stated that the university did not properly respond to sexual assault complaints, and the school agreed to improve how it handles sexual assaults and promised to work better with police.

As many schools around the country are changing their procedures for handling sexual assault cases, Rider’s standard of evidence stands as “more likely than not.” This differs from Mercer County’s standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In Mercer County, a sexual assault victim will be assigned an advocate and have the ability to contact police.

“Consistent with a shared goal of eliminating sexual violence, sexual harassment and discrimination on campus, Rider University is fully cooperating with the Office for Civil Rights in its investigation and hopes to achieve a timely and judicious resolution of this matter,” Brown said.

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