Students are suing Howard University for allegedly refusing to help suicidal rape victims

AP

Five students have filed a class action lawsuit against Howard University for being "deliberately indifferent" to their Title IX rights, failing to investigate alleged sexual misconduct on campus and neglecting to provide resources to students dealing with the aftermath of assault.

Among the most egregious accusations in the suit is a claim that campus officials refused help to a rape victim who identified themselves as being depressed and suicidal following a fellow RA's alleged attack. According to BuzzFeed, the university allowed the RA to have access to the student's dorm room and to continue attending the classes they shared after receiving the complaints against him.

"These young women are living on a campus where they have reached out for help from the school, and the passage of time is just compounding the harm that they feel," Linda M. Correia, the attorney representing the lawsuit's five plaintiffs, told the site. 

"They should feel safe on their campus, safe in their classrooms, in their dorms, and Howard has not ensured that they do feel safe."

Students and faculty protested against sexual assault on campus in 2016 after a student named in the class action lawsuit tweeted about her assault and the university's alleged negligence.Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Students and faculty protested against sexual assault on campus in 2016 after a student named in the class action lawsuit tweeted about her assault and the university's alleged negligence.  Win McNamee/Getty Images

Many complainants — all identified as Jane Doe 1 through 5 in the suit — say university officials discouraged them from speaking out about their assaults or retaliated against them when they did.

Jane Doe 1, who said she was assaulted in her dorm room by a fellow RA, tweeted about her frustrations with the university's investigation of her assault after she learned that her assailant could continue taking classes with her and had remained employed as an RA by the university. A number of students responded to Jane Doe 1's tweets, expressing similar outage over the university's handling of Title IX cases on campus, with one student, identified as Jane Doe 2 in the suit, confiding that the same RA had attacked her the year before. 

Campus officials, Doe 2 said, had neglected to update her on the status of her investigation for months. In those months, the RA allegedly assaulted Jane Doe 1.

Doe 1 said that after the tweets about her assault, Howard's Dean of Student Affairs told her, "You embarrassed your family by doing that." Doe 1 also claimed she was fired from her own position as an RA following her official Title IX complaint to the university, while Doe 2 said the university nixed her financial aid and threatened to tell a collection agency about her outstanding tuition payments. Doe 2 ultimately left Howard after her experience with sexual assault and the university's alleged negligence took a toll on her mental health.

Howard University's 2016 commencement ceremonySource: Jose Luis Magana/AP
Howard University's 2016 commencement ceremony  Jose Luis Magana/AP

Jane Doe 3 fears a similar fate as Doe 2, stating in the lawsuit that because she's on academic probation, she fears she'll lose the scholarships keeping her at Howard. Doe 3 had entered a relationship with a Howard University police officer in 2014, throughout which the officer allegedly sexually assaulted and physically abused her multiple times. When Doe 3 told the university she was suicidal and wanted to seek counseling, she said officials ignored her calls and neglected to make any arrangements for her.

Jane Does 4 and 5 both accused the university of stalling their sexual assault cases due to campus officials' own negligence. BuzzFeed reported that when Doe 4 had requested a no-contact order for her alleged assailant, the university took three months to tell her no. 

And though in Doe 5's case the university eventually found her attacker responsible and handed down a two-year suspension for his crimes, it took them seven months to complete their investigation. During that time, Howard also failed to comply with the city police's independent investigation, allegedly ignoring requests for records of the university's findings.

This alleged negligence has left students feeling abandoned and disillusioned.

"When I had to leave this university because I didn't feel supported, it crushed my whole outlook on the university as a whole," Doe 2 told BuzzFeed. "You built this legacy, but you don't protect the students that are continuing the legacy."

Howard University did not immediately respond to Mic's request for comment. A spokesperson from the university told BuzzFeed it's Howard's policy not to comment on pending litigation.