Sat. Sep 30th, 2023

“Dr. Stiefel and I were friendly, in hindsight definitely overly friendly, starting in early 2021. He asked for my phone number and for me to make him a playlist,” Wells School of Music (WSOM) student Mina Santiago described in an email posted to her statement. 

Santiago posted a statement to her Instagram account on Aug. 28 2023, which narrates the relationship between her and WSOM professor, Dr. Van Stiefel.

Their conversation started off merely about music. Though, after about a two week break of no text exchanges, Dr. Stiefel reached out to Santiago about self-harm.

Her statement described the power dynamic between her and Dr. Stiefel, where Santiago “idolized and adored him as a composer.” She described her time in West Chester as “depressed and isolated.” 

In an email posted to her statement, Santiago expressed: “I feel that he took advantage of my extremely low mental state in WC and treated my trauma voyeuristically.”

Santiago states that Stiefel had asked for her insight into experiences of self-harm for lyrical inspiration for a project he was working on. Her statement describes Dr. Stiefel as making references to self harm as “magik” and ritualistic. 

Stiefel allegedly wrote poems with themes of self-harm to Santiago, much to her discomfort.

“My lived experience of self is that it is secretive, […] so his analogies struck me as perverse,” Santiago described in the statement.  

In a text message exchange prior to her ending things, which Santiago’s statement links to, the two discuss Santiago’s attempts to enter a music program at Temple. Dr. Stiefel messaged, “But you better be not coming back to WCU or you could get me fired with these texts.” Santiago did not attend Temple, and after her audition had alerted Stiefel that she would be continuing to enroll in courses at WCU. 

According to Santiago, she was enrolled as a student throughout her text exchanges with Dr. Stiefel. Over the summer of 2022, Dr. Stiefel’s intentions became more clear. 

“Part of me wants this to burn out quickly, I want to grow past this kind of thing but I can’t help myself,” Santiago wrote to Dr. Stiefel via text.

“I’m your friend. And I find you wonderful, hot, etc. can’t say I want it to burn off or up,” Dr. Stiefel replied.

Feeling claustrophobic due to the sensitive nature of their conversations and the unbalanced dynamic of his position as her professor, Santiago stated she ended things in July of 2022. 

“He has made more recent attempts to reignite whatever it was, but now I’m more distant from it I feel repulsed,” Santiago disclosed in an email posted within her statement. “He’s made it clear that he does want to have an affair with me, a student who clearly idolized him.”

Due to his continuing replies and direct messages on social media pertaining to their previous relationship and for the safety of fellow students in WSOM, Santiago believed it was necessary to consult the University’s Title IX Coordinator Lynn Klingensmith in August 2022. Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based harassment within universities or colleges. 

Santiago’s report led to Dr. Stiefel’s termination a few weeks into the Fall 2022 semester. 

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors explicitly states that amorous relationships, which are defined as a consensual relationship between two unmarried persons that includes electronic communications such as text or social media, between employees and students, are prohibited. The policy states in case of any doubt of whether the relationship falls within the classification of the guidelines, “individuals should disclose the facts to… the chief human resources officer.” 

Almost a year later, in July 2023, the statement explains that Klingensmith had contacted Santiago to inform her that Dr. Stiefel had appealed his termination with a grievance filed by the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) union.

According to Santiago’s statement, Klingensmith said that “the union’s lawyers were attempting to repeal the school’s decision to terminate Stiefel” and that Santiago’s testimony could keep him terminated. 

Santiago’s statement described an arbitration that took place on Aug. 10 that led to Dr. Stiefel’s reinstatement, which is a process that poses an alternative method to settle disputes faster and outside of the court system. After preparing her testimony for the arbitration, Santiago traveled to Harrisburg where the hearing was to be conducted. However, according to Santiago, she was never allowed to testify. 

According to Santiago, Dave Mueller, legal counsel to PASSHE, and Bill Helzlsouer, chief human resources officer at WCU, informed her that the university used the threat of her testimony against APSCUF to reinstate him back to WCU on supposedly restrictive terms. “They suggested that I forego testifying altogether and allow them to make a deal with the union in which Stiefel would be reinstated.”

The APSCUF-WCU president, Professor Margaret Irving, told The Quad that she is not permitted to comment on personnel matters.

On Aug. 31, a message from the WCU Administration was sent out to the students of WSOM by Dr. Christopher Hanning, the WSOM Dean. Without mentioning her name, The Administration stated they admired Santiago’s bravery in telling her story, but “in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, public employees have both legal and collective bargaining protections that provide them the opportunity to challenge employment decisions.” 

Santiago has since stated to The Quad that she particularly finds the administration’s response to be insubstantial. 

Nancy Gainer, Senior Associate Vice President for University Communications and Marketing,  said via email that, “the University is dedicated to working to correct and prevent misconduct. At this time, I do not have any additional information to share about the personnel matter.”

The Quad reached out to WCU’s Provost on Sept. 14, but has not received a response. The Quad also reached out to Dr. Hanning for comment, but received no response. 

Casey DeCarlo, a student of WSOM and friend of Santiago’s, described in an interview with The Quad the atmosphere within the WSOM community. He described the dynamic of WSOM professors as a “country club,” where members felt entitled to protect the older administrators. 

DeCarlo expressed the unease from students in light of this situation through WSOM.

In DeCarlo’s interview he stated that after the Dean’s email was sent out, an advisory meeting was held. He didn’t attend, but heard from other students that Santiago’s situation was acknowledged but also “brushed off” by administration. 

DeCarlo stated the meeting acknowledged how “Stiefel will not be teaching this semester,” which didn’t confirm any form of dismissal for the WSOM professor. 

Prior to the 2023 fall semester, many students noticed Dr. Stiefel’s name on their class roster. Though, right before school began, his name was removed from students’ schedules without explanation.

Monica Zheng was one of those students who noticed Dr. Stiefel’s name being removed from their roster on the first day of the fall 2023 semester. 

In an interview with Zheng, they stated that “the reason and status of his employment was never communicated by the school. His reinstatement was a surprise, especially as he was ready to teach that fall up until Mina’s statement.”

Dr. Stiefel is not currently listed as a faculty member on the WSOM webpage despite his apparent reinstatement.

Casey has since started a petition to protest the reinstatement of Dr. Stiefel, which was posted to change.org on Aug. 31.

DeCarlo said his reason for creating the petition was for WCU to acknowledge how students “don’t like how the school of theory handles things as they are willing to bend rules to keep their buddies around.”

This story is an update from The Quad’s previous reporting. The Quad is continuing to report on this story.

If you have information to share about this developing story, please contact wcuquad@gmail.com


Gaven Mitchell is a third-year History major with a minor  in Journalism. GM1001024@wcupa.edu

Brianna Chau is a third-year student Political Science major with a minor in Philosophy. BC976136@wcupa.edu

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