Stony Brook University alumna Sarah Tubbs met with members of the media on Tuesday, March 10 to discuss the lawsuit she filed against the school for alleged “deliberate indifference” in the handling of her sexual assault case.
According to the complaint filed, Tubbs was sexually assaulted on campus by another student on Jan. 26, 2014. After she reported the incident to the University Police Department, received an examination from a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and reported the incident to the Office of University Community Standards, a disciplinary hearing was scheduled to take place during the spring 2014 finals week.
On May 22, 2014, the day of her graduation, Tubbs was informed that the hearing board found that the alleged assailant, who she is now suing as well, was not responsible. After receiving the written basis for the hearing panel’s decision dated July 9, 2014, Tubbs filed an appeal.
In a letter dated Aug. 28, 2014, Director of Campus Recreation Jay Souza advised her that after reviewing the case, he “found no evidence that the Hearing Board considered the definition of consent found in the University Code of Conduct and/or applied that definition to the facts of this case” and that the finding “constitutes a significant procedural error warranting the granting of your appeal,” according to Tubbs’s lawsuit complaint.
According to the complaint, Tubbs was advised that she would be contacted by the Office of Community Standards with the next steps in the appeals process, but did not receive any further information.
Tubbs’ lawyer, Amy Attias of Sussman and Watkins, said that on March 6, 2015 at about 9:15 p.m., Tubbs received an email from Stony Brook University’s Director of the Office of Community Standards Matty Orlich describing that although Souza, the appellate officer, had found the hearing board had not taken into account the definition of consent and intoxication, they did in fact take the definition into account and the appeal was found against Tubbs.
The following is a transcript of Tubbs’ interview. The Statesman is publishing Tubbs’ name with her expressed permission to do so. The Statesman is withholding the name of the alleged assailant as he has not been criminally charged. The questions in the transcription have been modified for clarity purposes.
The New Republic: I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I want to ask you about your motivations for why you want to speak out and what you hope the outcome of this case is, whether it’s making sure that other people, other students, not just at Stony Brook, but throughout SUNY, throughout the country are kind of aware of their rights and what changes in policy you hope to see in the future.
Sarah Tubbs: I can say, starting off, it’s not easy to come out about this, and I really have one concrete motivation coming out about it, and it’s so that no other victim has to go through a system I went through. In my opinion, if I survived the system, barely, then no one should have to go through it. It was horrendous and if I can save someone else from having to do that by sitting here and talking to you all today, then I’ll do it. It’s definitely challenging.
News 12: Can you tell us a little bit about the process you had to go through at your university where you basically had to face or hear your assailant?
Sarah Tubbs: It was five hours long, there was a paper screen with a hole in it separating us, and I was forced to prepare questions for the perpetrator. I was questioned by him, I had to prepare witnesses and he had a witness and then we would receive questions from the hearing board. But on an emotional level, that’s the last place I would want to be. I had asked for my therapist to be there. I’ve been diagnosed for a while now with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], and they denied her. They said it would be unfair even though she had been in other hearings before for sexual assault, they said that with mine it would be unfair. They put me next to the door so that way in case anything happened, I could leave but there was no security, there [wasn’t] any type of protection and honestly, the worst part of the hearing was hearing his voice and then having his voice talk to me because he asked me questions. If you could imagine the worst place you would want to be with your worst enemy and then allowing them to ask you questions about how they assaulted you, it’s awful.
News12: In most cases of sexual assault or rape, the victim never sees the attacker until the court of law. What do you think about a process that happens on a university campus compared to what happens anywhere else?
Sarah Tubbs: I mean, I honestly don’t think universities are equipped to handle cases of sexual assault. I think when you think about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and the inadequacies of the system that’s there, it’s just horrendous. I feel like schools try so hard to protect their image of being a safe school and I think Stony Brook has clearly demonstrated that, they’re more concerned about their image than safety. I worked at Stony Brook while I was a student for three years and they still didn’t want to protect me. They wanted to protect their image. Instead I felt like I did something wrong, the way I was treated. [It was] that I did something wrong and not him.
The Statesman: What was your experience with the campus officials you worked with and how they treated you? Did you feel like they were qualified to handle your case?
Sarah Tubbs: When I first went into [Community Standards] office, they were pretty welcoming, and one of the first things [Matty Orlich] said was that “you wouldn’t be talking to me right now if nothing happened to you,” and that was something that really resonated with me and made me feel comfortable pursuing with Community Standards because I had been so poorly treated by the police that I was like “she’ll do the right thing.” As soon as I believe that she realized that I was going to pursue a case with Community Standards, the communication became much more hostile, much more hard to communicate with her to the point where because I was and still am so emotionally distressed by it, I would have someone call on behalf of me and they would get told that she wasn’t available, they would get two word answers from her, they would get brushed off, she would tell me that the next meeting would be in the next two weeks, and then I wouldn’t hear from her for like a month. She was doing every passive-aggressive motive to try and get me to not go through with the case, which was really, really challenging because when I decided to go through with Community Standards, it was so that way he knew he did something wrong. I just, I didn’t want him to hurt someone else like he hurt me. I didn’t need him to be put in jail, I just wanted him to not hurt someone else, and Community Standards didn’t give me that.
The Statesman: Now that you’ve gone through the Stony Brook process, what do you think they did that was particularly hurtful?
Sarah Tubbs: I mean, the entirety of the process. I think each system in schools across the country that have come to attention have had their own flaws and each school has its different flaws. You can’t say one is worse than another, one is worse because of this or that, it doesn’t really work that way. But I would say all of it would be the deterring me from suing and coming from the emotional point where I was at, to deter someone from pursuing, it takes a lot of effort to continue. It takes a lot of effort to continue if you’re mentally stable and you don’t have PTSD so to put that on top of it and to be doing two majors, working two jobs and to graduate and to apply for grad school, it was a lot. And then the other part would be having to sit in the room with him and have him question me.
The New Republic: Since the facts of your case and other similar cases around the country, Governor Cuomo and the SUNY administration, at least publicly, made an effort to kind of address this issue. I wanted to know what your thoughts were on the new policy, if you’re familiar with it. Because it seems like several pieces of it, the university directly violated. Obviously it wasn’t on the books when the university was hearing your case but if a similar case were to happen now, if you think any of the facts would have changed?
Sarah Tubbs: I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on the policy by any means but I would say that there needs to be more with it, I don’t think it’s sufficient. I think it’s great that there’s a Survivor’s Bill of Rights, but I think that there needs to be an advocate with them one hundred percent of the way. There needs to be someone that shows them “these are your options,these are your rights,” and walks with them through the process because even for me, when I went to the police first, I was given a piece of paper, and it had my options on it and I said “what does this option mean?” and I remember specifically it was the last option, and it was the only one I was considering at the time, the officer told me “I don’t know, just read it.’”[I said] “OK, but what does this mean, it doesn’t make sense to me,” and he was like “I don’t know, you can either sign that you’re going to do that option or sign that you’re not going to do anything.” And so for me, I was three or four days after being assaulted, being given this form, and these are my options and the officer himself didn’t even know what my options were.
The New Republic: In what ways did the university fail to educate the students, faculty, staff?
Sarah Tubbs: I would say they’ve made, because I still have a lot of friends that are still at school, they’ve made very surface level efforts to make it seem like they’re trying harder. They had something called “Green Dot” training, which was great, but only like a select amount of students were able to go. Mostly it was professional staff, student leaders, and there [were] people there that said they were wasting money on this training, that it didn’t really mean anything, there was people there that only stayed for a part of it and they’re the ones working in the office that deals with people of sexual assault. The students are required to do an online information thing but you can click the answers and just go back and click it until you have it right so you don’t have to read anything or you can sit through an hour or two training, sign a piece of paper that you were there, and you’re done. They’re not teaching them what consent is. They’re not teaching them how not to rape, how not to sexually assault. They’re putting up like these surface-level things that make it look like they’re following with Governor Cuomo. They’re following with what the drive is to try to change policies. They’re making it look like they’re doing it, but nothing’s really being done.
The Statesman: After going through Stony Brook’s process and dealing with UPD and Community Standards, what kind of advice would you have for other students who may have gone through the same thing that you have?
Sarah Tubbs: I think it’s challenging that question right now, and I’ve been asked it before. Honestly I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling people to go through the process of Community Standards. I found it more traumatizing than helpful, especially since nothing happened because they denied the appeal was well. Honestly, I wouldn’t know what to tell them to do. I would say go to outside law enforcement office because UPD did a horrendous job as well, and the lack of empathy for a survivor is just very apparent by UPD to the point where one of the detectives, after he finished—I would use the word interrogated me—he told the other detective in the room that he didn’t know how much longer he could do this, that he was sick and he had a cold. And I had just told him my whole story. I would suggest to go to an outside law enforcement office.
News12: Was there any thought of going to Suffolk County PD?
Sarah Tubbs: Honestly, after being told that I could pursue but more than likely I wouldn’t have a case, I wasn’t going to go.
Newsday: What is the sentiment on campus regarding your case [from the student body and professional staff]?
Sarah Tubbs: My best friend on campus, Christine, is working on a committee, it’s called VIP [Violence, Intervention and Prevention], but it has to do with intimate partner violence. They have been working on understanding the policy better and what the policy is at Stony Brook and now they’re working on changing it and promoting change on campus. There’s definitely been some widespread attention on the campus of this being an issue and Stony Brook not doing anything about it. From the student body perspective, there’s definitely been a push to try and get things to change but the university hasn’t responded. From professional staff perspective, there’s a handful in the bunch of professional staff that are also trying to push things to change, but the majority don’t really see it as an issue.
Newsday: Have you been back-and-forth with any professors, any students?
Sarah Tubbs: I communicate with former classmates, my friends, I communicate with some former colleagues, some former supervisors, so I definitely still have strong ties [to the school].
The Statesman: How do you feel about Peter Baigent’s op-ed as what he said conflicts with your story?
Sarah Tubbs: Just to kind of clear things up, Stony Brook on paper may have an OK policy, but it’s not what happens, and I can tell you that technically he was supposed to ask the question, the hearing officer was supposed to repeat the question to me, and then I was supposed to answer. That happened maybe two or three times, the rest of the time it was just him talking and me responding. So that’s false, from what happened. That may be what’s on paper, but it’s not what happens, and that’s kind of the central theme for what happened.
For more of The Statesman’s coverage of Title IX and sexual assault-related issues, click here.