All of the students interviewed for this article have requested for their identities to remain anonymous.
It was a dreary Wednesday afternoon when I sat on the phone with a friend and fellow student at Shenandoah. Over our 30-minute conversation, they detailed their experience with the Title IX procedures and, most notably, the Title IX Coordinator, Peter Kronemeyer. “Things just kind of, like… sputtered out quickly,” they said of their case.
The student said they were harassed by another student who lived in their dorm. Worried for their own safety, they went to the Title IX Office for guidance, requesting that the accused student be educated on how to respect others, particularly those who identify as women. After an initial meeting in Kronemeyer’s office in which the situation was discussed, the student did not hear from him for a week and a half. By the time he responded to the student’s follow-up emails, the accused student had begun to withdraw from the university.
In an email shortly after, Kronemeyer stated that the accused student was no longer on campus.
“Accordingly, the university no longer has jurisdiction to investigate or adjudicate complaints against him,” Kronemeyer wrote. “Let me know if I can be of further assistance.” When the student asked him if the accused student ever received education or training, they were told the matter was confidential.
Multiple Shenandoah students have spoken out about their issues with the Title IX Office and the way it operates. Communication, they claim, is the number one issue: Some students state they feel as though their testimonies are not being treated in a timely or considerate manner. Instead, they feel as though they are not a priority. They say this is causing a ripple effect throughout the university, as some students are choosing to avoid a process they say will not properly advocate for or protect their rights.
The Title IX Office at Shenandoah University upholds the university policy that prohibits sexual misconduct and sexual violence. According to the Title IX Office page, “Shenandoah University is committed to investigating reports of sexual misconduct, to adjudicating them according to the policies of the university, and to provide support to those who have been affected by sexual misconduct.”
One student said she was assaulted during her first semester at Shenandoah. Initially, she chose to not report the assault or speak about it to mandated reporters.
“Because, back then you’re a freshman, no one explains to you, like… where to go, what to do, whatever,” she said. It was not until she was employed at her current work-study that she realized that being sexually assaulted was not a normal occurrence for someone attending college.
During her sophomore year, the student was notified that the student who had allegedly assaulted her was applying for a position of power on campus. Her fear was that this student could abuse their power to hurt other students. It resulted in her needing to meet with Kronemeyer in the Title IX Office.
“He, like, wrote everything down and then he was like, ‘I have to reach out to them. This is how we do the process. I’ll let you know.’ It was probably three weeks before I heard from him. I had to keep reaching out to him. That’s how my whole entire process went.”
The student said that Kronemeyer’s excuses for the delay in action were, “He was sick, he was busy, there was a lot going on in the office.” She shook her head and looked down at her hands before saying, “…and he didn’t make me feel like a priority.”
When asked to comment on the two to three week waiting period that students were experiencing, Kronemeyer stated in an email sent on April 18, 2022:
“Reports submitted through the sexual misconduct reporting form are responded to promptly, typically within 24-48 hours. If a report is submitted through another form (e.g. student of concern form) it may take longer to get to the Title IX office. Reports that are submitted anonymously make it difficult or impossible to respond, though a record is kept to track whether a particular person is the subject of multiple anonymous reports.”
Kronemeyer declined to comment on the students who were already in the midst of the Title IX process that was experiencing these longer periods of no communication or updates.
Other students say they are wary of reporting their experience to the Title IX Office due to communication issues. One student reached out to me, wanting to explain his reasons for choosing to not report his assault.
“The reason I’ve come here today is to talk about how the atmosphere that is created by [the Title IX Office] is not conducive to wanting people to report stuff,” he said. “And maybe if Title IX worked with student organizations to get to students, that just might help… getting some awareness.”
He shrugged his shoulders, “Cause it’s not so much that the awareness needs to be there, it’s the idea that it’s not physically there enough.”
In the student’s opinion, it should be Title IX’s responsibility to foster an atmosphere of safety and support. He believes that Title IX should be the ones educating students about what sexual assault and harassment are, along with how and why to report it. His reasoning is that the Title IX Office knows the legal processes. They are the only resource (other than contacting the police) available to students that can result in disciplinary action for perpetrators of assault.
“I’m not saying that they need to be the only physical people on the ground doing it.… and maybe they do interact with the [Not Just] Women’s Center, maybe they do interact with some student organizations, but it’s obviously not effective enough.”
Shenandoah University’s Department of Public Safety issues an “Annual Security Report & Fire Safety Report” that is made available through the university’s website. The Clery Act, passed in 1990 by the United States Congress, requires all colleges and universities to make all reported sexual offenses public information.
The most recent data available is from 2020. Shenandoah University’s Title IX Office reported zero cases of the four types of sex offenses that they are required to report: rape, fondling, incest, or statutory rape. In 2019, there were three reports of rape, and in 2018, there was one fondling report. There is no data for 2021.
When asked why there were no sex offenses recorded for 2020, Kronemeyer wrote in an email sent on April 18, 2022:
“Sex offenses in the annual security report that are required by the Clery act to be reported are narrower than Title IX offenses, which may help explain. Also, in August 2020, The Department of Education’s new regulations on Title IX became effective, mandating certain definitions of “Sexual Harassment” (including sexual assault) that are narrower than under prior federal guidance. The university acts on misconduct that is reported and works with victims/survivors to ensure access to Shenandoah’s programs. Sometimes that is under the Title IX policy, and other times (when the conduct does not rise to the definitions in that policy) it is addressed through another university policy.”
One student who also offered to speak of her experience said that her case never made it to Title IX. Instead, it stalled in processes within the Student of Concern and CARE Team. Her issue involved fellow conservatory students harassing her over an assault that did not occur at Shenandoah University. She said that she was told that her situation did not fall under Title IX and fell under another University policy that was handled by the CARE Team.
The student said that she continued to request that her situation be re-evaluated and handled by the Title IX Office. However, a CARE Team staff member allegedly said to her in a meeting: “Well, why did you put yourself in that situation?”
The student chose to go to administration for support instead. She said that she did not want to interact with the CARE Team after they allegedly said something that was hurtful to her and her situation.
“The rape culture [surrounding the students], especially in the conservatory, is so toxic. Sexual harassment jokes are expected. Sexual assault jokes are expected. And it’s not funny,” she said.
Committing to a Campus Free of Sexual Violence
There are communities on campus working to improve the negative atmosphere around preventing sexual assault and harassment on campus. The [Not Just] Women’s Center, located on the first floor of the Brandt Student Center, is committed to a campus free of sexual violence and the fear of violence.
Sarah Celec, the Health and Safety Programs Coordinator, said in an email sent on April 26, 2022:
“The [Not Just] Women’s Center (NJWC) has a number of purposes on our campus: (1) the space itself is a safe space for students to come and find community, a place of belonging, (2) access to physical and emotional resources, and (3) educational and/or social events for the SU community that promote education and advocacy for survivors.”
The NJWC has proven through its events, such as Take Back the Night and Denim Day, that they are a valuable resource to the Shenandoah community. Celec said that she believes that resource centers like the NJWC “are pivotal spaces of transformation in higher education.” By having these spaces, Celec said that Shenandoah University shows that it supports students and their wish to thrive in a space in which they can reach their goals in a safe environment.
Students are encouraged to report assaults and sex offenses, advocate for themselves and others, and grow the support and respect for people throughout the campus community. If you want to report a sexual assault or rape, please contact the Title IX Office by either calling 540-665-4921 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also fill out the form at the top of Shenandoah University’s “Stance On Sexual Misconduct (Title IX)” page on the university’s website.