September 25, 2000

Female Sexually Assaulted Near Goldwin Smith Hall

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A female Asian student was assaulted early on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 16, by two white males in an incident Cornell Police (CUPD) called “sexual abuse motivated by a racial bias,” in a document obtained by The Sun. CUPD is still investigating the episode.

The victim was “not physically injured but has been traumatized,” Randall H. Hausner, Captain of CUPD, wrote in an e-mail last Wednesday to at least nine University administrators that was subsequently forwarded to residence hall directors and some campus listservs.

Hausner’s e-mail provides a description of the incident that is considerably more detailed than the entry that appeared in Wednesday’s Cornell Police Morning Report, which stated: “Reported receiving a complaint from a student that two unknown individuals accosted and subjected her to sexual abuse. Incident occurred at 0030 hours on 09/16/00. Investigation is continuing.”

In the e-mail, Hausner wrote that the assault occurred on East Avenue east of Goldwin Smith Hall, as the victim “was walking alone from the Statler to her residence.” She had first encountered her attackers near the intersection of East Avenue and Tower Road, when they passed her in a

vehicle and “yelled a racial epithet at her,” according to Hausner.

The female then “yelled back an obscenity” and proceeded to walk north along East Avenue. The car with an unspecified number of white male occupants subsequently, according to the e-mail, “came up from behind her. Two of the occupants got out of the car, approached and wrestled her to the ground. She was fondled and restrained against her will. More racial epithets were said by the males. Eventually she was released by her attackers and she continued on home.”

The victim filed her report of the incident Tuesday evening. The Sun did not learn of the full nature of the attack until obtaining Hausner’s e-mail late Thursday night.

In a Friday interview with The Sun, Hausner explained that CUPD is investigating the incident, but currently doesn’t know if the assailants were Cornell students. “We’ve been working with the girl since she reported it,” said Hausner, who added Saturday that CUPD interviewed the victim again Thursday evening.

CUPD has refused to release official details about this incident to The Sun or the general public, other than what was included on a Campus Watch flier that was posted primarily in on-campus residential areas Friday afternoon. Hausner noted that approximately 150 copies of the flier were distributed.

The flier stated: “There has been a recent bias-related sexual abuse incident. Two males who had been driving on East Avenue wrestled a female student to the ground, restrained her, and then released her. She was not physically injured.” The flier does not describe the attackers as white, nor the female victim as Asian.

Hausner said the fliers were not distributed in off-campus residential areas, where many Cornellians live, because “most of those students don’t walk on East Avenue at midnight on a Saturday. I think what we did was more prudent.”

He also explained that Wednesday’s Morning Report did not include bias-related details about the incident because, “frankly, at the time the Morning Report was issued, I didn’t know it was a bias-related crime.”

The Sun has pursued a more extensive description of the incident, citing both the “Freedom of Information Law” found in New York State Public Officers Law (sections 84 to 90; 91 to 99) and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. But University officials told The Sun that neither of those statutes require the University to release anything beyond what it included in the Wednesday Morning Report and Friday’s Campus Watch flier.

Under the Clery Act, schools are also required to provide “timely warnings to the campus community on crimes considered to be a threat to other students and employees … in a manner that is timely and that will aid in the prevention of similar occurrences.”

“The only public report is the Morning Report,” Hausner said. “We are required to make information known to the Cornell community in a timely fashion and we did.”

Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, expressed her outrage with the incident and her sympathy for the victim. “My heart goes out to her,” said Murphy, who was a recipient of Hausner’s initial e-mail. “Their assault was a gross violation of our community standards and a crime.”

Murphy stressed that to avoid creating a climate of fear, the University must take a balanced approach in addressing crimes on campus.

“We want to draw students’ attention to mind their own safety and set standards for accountability, and then treat each incident on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

Residence hall directors, upon notification of the assault, have sought to inform their residents on how to protect themselves from an attack. Brian Meyer, residence hall director at Cascadilla, said he will meet today with staff members at the Collegetown dorm to discuss safety issues. He also held a Hall Council meeting last night.

At Balch, Amanda Erdman contacted her Resident Advisors as soon as possible and said the dorm has held mandatory floor meetings about the assault, noting the importance of educating the student population.

“Whenever something like this happens to a female, I am always surprised,” Erdman said.

Kenneth Glover, residence hall director at Ujamaa, also expressed outrage at the attack. “Wrestling and fondling is not something that happens every day,” he said.

Glover criticized the University’s approach to sexual assault prevention. “We have posters that say, ‘Drink Moderately;’ posters that explain the meal plans,” he said. “Where are the posters that tell women what to do when they’re being stalked?”

Addressing Cornell’s level of action in preventing assaults, Murphy said the administration has tried to enhance education of students by distributing the Campus Watch newsletter and advocating responsible night behavior. She also noted that the University has increased the visibility of Blue Light escorts.

CUPD continues to urge all students to walk in well-lit areas and to avoid walking alone at night. Residents should utilize blue light buses and blue light escorts at night, and immediately report any suspicious or criminal activity to CUPD by dialing 911 or using a blue light telephone.

Archived article by Ken Meyer