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Students dissatisfied with no contact orders

Image courtesy of Kirsten Magas, The Quad Features Editor.

Filing a no contact directive is an option when conflict takes place between students on-campus. However, students have reported issues with the vague nature of the directive.

Assistant Dean of Students Christina Brenner of the West Chester University Office of Student Conduct described a no contact directive as, “written so that there becomes a pause in a space between two students that may have some conflict happening and are unable to resolve it.” The school typically attempts mediation at first, but when an issue is beyond mediation or when the parties involved are unwilling to work things out, then a no contact directive may prove helpful.

A no contact directive “goes both ways” when put into place, even in cases of an accused and accuser. The directive, Brenner explained, is meant to be relatively permanent, and it dictates that neither party may purposely contact the other on campus–not in person, through social media or the phone, nor through a third-party mediator like a friend. However, the university’s no contact directive “does not mean that you don’t ever get to see [the other person].” On the contrary, in situations where both parties wish to participate in the same on-campus event, such as a club meeting or a sporting event, it is generally acceptable that they do so as long as both parties are comfortable and do not purposely have direct interaction as there is no special provision in their directive that dictates otherwise (although the school prefers “not to get too granular” with extra provisions and to “only get into those details if it is absolutely necessary”.)

Even in instances of sexual harassment, “the weight of the resolve, depending on some factors, doesn’t necessarily always fall on the accused” if “all [the school has] is a request to stay apart.” However, if the case of the accused has moved forward in court or in the Office of Student Conduct, and it has been proven that harassment did indeed take place, then the weight of the resolve generally falls on the accused. If it is proven that the accused consciously fails to comply with the directive, then “The range of the penalties [depends]” on the “seriousness of the original offense and the threat of harm.”

Although The Quad has received reports about Resident Assistants (R.A.) filing directives on behalf of dorm residents, only the parties that would be part of a directive are technically allowed to file it. Third parties may not step in and file a directive on behalf of others, although it is recommended that they suggest it when it seems necessary. Such a situation could actually cause issues because “if you send [the directive] to one party, and not the other party, sometimes there’s a retaliation factor that starts to happen and they may reach out and tease the other party into getting in trouble.” In fact, Brenner explains that “sometimes [getting a directive] can aggravate the situation.” She also points out that no contact directives are a very complicated matter and can manifest themselves in any number of ways; they are not a “one-size-fits-all” type of situation.

Another issue that is likely to arise with No Contact directives is that both parties may end up enrolled in the same class. Although University policy does not ensure that such an event does not occur in the first place, “there is a solution to that” problem according to Brenner. However, again, the weight of the resolve does not necessarily fall on the accused — that is, the accused is not necessarily forced to switch out of the session unless the harassment case has moved forward, and the harassment has been proven. There are numerous factors that may affect the ultimate decision in such cases, but ultimately, it is very likely that the parties’ academic processes will be impeded in the process.

‘I’m not trying to get him removed from classes. I just don’t want to be put in a position where he has access to my email or phone number.’

An anonymous student at West Chester University detailed her experience with a no contact Directive that she filed with a fellow student after he made a “vulgar, sexual comment” directed at her during her sophomore year. She took the issue up with the Office of Social Equity, as well as filed a report with Public Safety after the offense took place. Despite this, the student did not feel as though the directive helped her situation.

After filing the directive, she had three instances of contact with the other student. According to her, she had a class with him where he would “slam stuff” on his desk when sitting behind her. In another incident, the student would also “slam things” on tables during a club they had together, which ended in her choosing to stop going to the club. At the start of the spring 2019 semester of her senior year, she was in a situation where she was in two different classes with him. He chose to sit two seats away from her, causing her to feel the need to move away from him. Other incidents also occurred such as him walking close behind her when she would leave class, which caused her to feel unsafe.

The student felt that the sexual nature of the comment “should have weight” in the no contact directive, but it was not brought up by the Office of Social Equity when the directive was initially filed.

“I met with the office last year and the sexual nature of it was never brought up. After looking at the Code of Conduct, that was sexual harassment. And that has its own set of rules in which I should never be in the same place as him.”

She claimed that the student had issues with other students and professors on-campus, including having a no contact directive with a female professor after he physically threatened her, and threatening another female professor that he would make her lose her job.

She later found out that there was no record of her no contact directive during her senior year after notifying the professors of the classes she had the directive. She later learned that the Office of Social Equity had lost the record. She chose not to follow-up with this due to the nature of filing the order in which both parties would have to agree to it again, and she did not want to “escalate the situation” between the student and herself.

“Based on the fact that [the comment] was sexual in nature, I thought that my professors would be notified of it. I’m not trying to get him removed from classes or expelled from the university. I just don’t want to be put in a position where he has access to my email or my phone number.”

Another student’s story of a sexual harassment case ending in a no contact directive was different. In an anonymous email, the student detailed that she was speaking to friends in her dormitory about her boyfriend, who repeatedly demanded naked photos of her and pressured her into sex. After a R. A. heard this, she reported it to the Office of Sexual Misconduct, who later notified the student that a no contact directive was placed between her and her boyfriend. She did not feel like the directive was necessary, and felt she could not “work things out” with him on her own as a result of it.

“In my case, I think the no contact order was unnecessary. I felt like I had no say in whether or not I wanted one, they hit me [with] one of my least favorite phrases: ‘well that’s our policy.’ Policy should be a guideline but not set in stone. Ever. In my situation, I feel like it made things worse.”

No contact directives are filed through the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. If you or another student is facing sexual harassment, students are encouraged to file a Sexual Misconduct report. The office can be found at 13 and 15 University Avenue and can be reached at 610-436-2433.

Sam Walsh  is a third-year student majoring in special education and English with a minor in Autism studies.

Christoforos Sassaris is a third-year student majoring in English with minors in computer science and creative writing.

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