HelWell student manager keeps job after sexual violence finding, campaign to oust him

Media Credit: Brooke Migdon | Hatchet Photographer

Students started an email campaign to have a Lerner Health and Wellness Center student employee who was disciplined for sexual violence fired.

A student manager at the campus recreation center who was disciplined for sexual violence will keep his job after an online campaign called for his removal, a University spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Members of Students Against Sexual Assault created a Facebook event April 7 urging students to contact a top official at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center and demand he fire the assailant after a University hearing board found him responsible for an act of sexual violence. SASA members and some HelWell employees said they are uncomfortable spending time in a campus space where a student disciplined for sexual violence is a supervisor.

The campaign, “Email-in for Safety at HelWell,” features an email template instructing senders to say they aren’t comfortable working out or attending classes at HelWell because the student works there. The Facebook pages asks students to email Andre Julien, the associate athletic director at the center, and to copy Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad on the email.

The student, who is listed as a HelWell facility manager on the center’s website, was put on deferred suspension last month after a University hearing board found him responsible for sexually assaulting senior Aniqa Raihan in 2014.

Raihan started a petition to expel her attacker from the University April 2, which received 1,934 signatures as of Sunday.

The assailant received a deferred suspension – a punishment that allows him to stay at GW if he follows the instructions given to him in an outcome letter and if he does not violate another University policy. Students who are under a deferred suspension and do not follow the directions in the letter or breach another GW code can then be suspended from the University.

The University’s code of conduct recommends a minimum sanction of suspension for students who have committed sexual violence. The document does not say whether a sexual violence punishment could impact a student’s employment status on campus.

GW’s employee handbook does not specifically state that an employee can be terminated for a case of sexual violence outside the workplace.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said officials are aware of both the petition and the email campaign, but they will not remove the student from his position.

“While we have great sympathy for the survivors of sexual assault behind these efforts, we respectfully disagree with the characterization of both the student administrative process and its outcome,” she said. “We have reviewed the information available to us and have determined that no action regarding the student’s employment is warranted at this time.”

Csellar said officials will reassess the decision if new information about the case becomes available. She declined to say how many emails officials received as a result of the campaign and declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing the confidentiality of the process.

The assailant did not return a request for comment.

Raihan said students shouldn’t feel uncomfortable going to a gym that their tuition dollars help cover.

Raihan emailed Julien April 4 informing him that three HelWell employees, who are survivors of sexual assault, told her that they were uneasy working there while the student was in a management position, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Hatchet.

Raihan said she met with both Julien and Muhammad separately April 6. Muhammad later told her that he had contacted Julien and human resources at HelWell, but that no decisions were made at that time about the student’s job status, according to an email from Muhammad to Raihan obtained by The Hatchet.

Raihan said in an email that her goal was to make sure that students and staff feel safe at the gym. The University not taking action on this issue means that officials are prioritizing the employment of a known assailant over the safety of survivors, she said.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for a GW department to deny the results of a University judicial procedure,” Raihan said. “You cannot support and sympathize with survivors when you don’t believe them.”

Employees at HelWell received an email from Julien April 6 asking them to forward any inquiries about “the incident involving one of your fellow student employees” to Julien and to “not share any information that relates to this incident,” according to the email obtained by The Hatchet.

Jocelyn Jacoby, the co-president of SASA, said she was disappointed by officials’ decision not to fire the assailant, but she said she was not surprised because she had heard of cases in which officials have not properly handled similar situations in the past.

“They’re choosing to believe perpetrators instead of survivors, which makes their comment about sympathy and support feel hollow,” Jacoby said.

Officials should focus more on understanding the struggles that survivors face on campus, she said.

“I would say they should aim for empathy instead of sympathy, and work on actually imagining what it is like to come forward, and what it is like to go to a facility in which your rapist was found responsible and yet is still a supervisor,” Jacoby said.

Michaela Stanch, the director of peer education for SASA, said members of SASA asked Muhammad about starting the campaign after a meeting with him and he agreed to be copied on the emails to Julien.

Stanch said Muhammad told SASA members in the meeting that officials would need proof showing HelWell employees did not want to work with the assailant before taking action against him.

“Andre Julien’s inbox is now hopefully flooded with a bunch of emails,” she said. “The whole purpose of it was to show that there are a lot of people being affected, not just employees at HelWell but also patrons of HelWell, students, local alumni and everything.”

Two HelWell employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the assailant’s presence at HelWell causes discomfort, anxiety and panic among employees, particularly those who are survivors of sexual assault.

A HelWell employee and SASA executive board member, who is also a sexual assault survivor, said she and the assailant had been friendly, but after learning about Raihan’s case, she felt uncomfortable around him.

“I thought it was going to be fine and as soon as I got into my position at HelWell I was like ‘this isn’t OK,’” she said. “Like I have never felt more unsafe at work.”

She said she discussed restricting the assailant’s access to specific areas of the gym with other staff members, after several people came to her expressing concern. HelWell’s director of staffing is the only employee who currently enforces the restrictions, she said.

Another HelWell employee and survivor said in an email that she feels distressed and unsafe working under a manager found responsible for sexual violence.

“A place I would once have called my second home now makes me paranoid and panicked at the possibility of [him] walking by in his manager uniform,” she said. “For all the assault survivors, like myself, that feel terrified coming to work or even stepping into HelWell, we deserve to feel safe.”

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