No charges, but changes after September bias incident goes cold

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When “H8” followed by the n-word appeared on a Humbert Hall dorm room white board on September 6, 2016, a lengthy investigation followed. However, after six months, DePauw Public Safety’s investigation is cold, where it started—without a suspect or lead.

Without the addition of more credible leads, Director of Public Safety, Angie Nally said her office and investigators could do nothing else.

“It is closed pending any new information,” Nally said. “We feel that we have exhausted all of the potential leads that we have. We did a lot of canvassing trying to reach out to any student who might have information.”

After interviewing 25 people, investigators, exhausted the current list of potential information sources, according to an email sent to students. No individuals were identified or charged.  Yet, instead of closing the investigation, Public Safety is keeping it open and encouraging community members to contact the office or use anonymous reporting options.  

Investigators took steps to conduct the most thorough investigation possible, Nally said. This included sending officers to Humbert and South Quad to speak with students to hear what they knew about the situation.

Despite the investigation’s failure to identify a suspect, not all is lost. Dean of Students, Myrna Hernandez, said a series of conversations and changes occurred after the incident.

“In this particular case, there was not a person identified,” Hernandez said. “We put out a call for information after the incident occurred. That took on a bit of a light of its own. It started a conversation about cameras and security.”

In an email to students on Oct. 4, Hernandez outlined the response from DePauw Public Safety, and her Office of Student Life. The email provided updates on the investigation, information about reporting future incidents, outlined resources available to victims, along with introducing future programs.

Despite the investigation’s conclusion, and the email, many students were surprised to hear their investigation had gone cold and all leads had been exhausted.

“I was not made aware that the investigation was concluded,” senior Sarah Fears said.  “I really haven’t heard much.” Fears sits on several student boards, including DePauw Student Government.

However, she was not the only student who felt the University could have communicated more effectively.

“After she moved out, I haven’t received any updates about the situation; whether it be about the investigation or anything,” Resident Assistant Ivalyo Pasev said. The biased incident occurred on Pasev’s floor in Humbert Hall.

Nearly a week after the initial incident, Pasev said he and his co-first-year Resident Assistant Elise Daniells planned a floor program to address the issue directly.  “Only certain people knew about the issue on the floor.  We met with Assistant Dean of Students, JJL [Jeannette Johnson-Licon], she had designed a template for a poster that she would make,” Pasev said.  

He and Daniells wanted to speak directly about the issue, while keeping the identity of the student private. “Pretty much everything was on us,” Pasev said. “I knew a lot of my residents didn’t know what that word [biased incident] meant.”  

After asking his residents what a biased incident was, he knew he had more work to do. “They couldn’t give a direct answer.  I wanted to make it as clear as possible,” Pasev said.   “I wanted to address the issue directly.”

After that floor meeting Campus Living and Community Development called a meeting for all of the student RA staff. The RAs in attendance said that Vice President for Student Academic Life Allan Hill, Dean of Students Myrna Hernandez, and other CLCD professional staff were in the meeting.

“That was basically the first time some of the RAs had heard about the incident,” Pasev said. He admitted the meeting was, “frustrating, because at that point, there was no response.  No one had reached out to the entire campus. That was about a week after the incident.”

Both Nally and Hernandez admit that the University’s reaction could have operated more smoothly. However, both pointed to changes in the overall communication plan to how these and other types of instances are relayed to students.

Information alerts were created to inform students “when a threat is less than imminent and or recurring, specifically around crime statistics collected as mandated by [the] Clery [Act],” Hernandez said in an email message to students.

In addition to information alerts, cameras have been preliminarily approved and amendments have been made to the way the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) Team operates.

“The BIRT Team has been around for five or six years, but has morphed into various formats over the years,” Hernandez said.  “So, we’ve looked at it over the past academic year.”

While students recognize the changes, some still aren’t fully satisfied.

“I just think there is a lot of reactive things and not a lot of proactive things to make sure that these things don’t happen again,” Pasev said.  “I didn’t see anything that would prevent this from happening again, and to me, that’s very scary.  This could very easily happen again, today.”

“I think I get the critique of being reactive, and to some extent, I guess I can own that,” Hernandez said.  “Because my job is then to react, try to support the students, and then try to provide some education for the larger community.”

President Mark McCoy said that education will continue to take place. “We all want to live in a bias free world.  We need to work together to achieve that.  But, sadly, a lot of these things are not easily solved. That’s unfortunate,” President McCoy said. “We’ve spent a good bit of time talking about the first days on campus. This year will be the year that we really address that head on.”