Texas A&M University is being rocked this week by a flurry of accusations by women who said they suffered sexual assault and misconduct while students at the school, and that what they described as the administration’s weak response toward their assailants left them feeling alone and traumatized.
The outpouring of complaints began when a student, Hannah Shaw, posted an account last week of her interaction with the school administration after she learned that a member of the school’s swim team, who she said assaulted her three years ago, rejoined the team. After being suspended for a semester, the man was permitted to return to campus, she wrote.
“I only wish this wasn’t something I share in common with so many other students,” she added.
Shaw’s string of tweets quickly went viral. By Wednesday, it had been retweeted nearly 16,000 times.
Many of the 500 comments expressed support for her, and outrage at the university for its handling of the incident. Several other women added their stories as well.
“I was disappointed in my university when they had the audacity to tell me to my face with tears in my eyes that the guy who sexually assaulted me who admitted it and was found guilty for sexual misconduct and rape in the hearing was suspended and not expelled from the school,” wrote a woman who, contacted by the Statesman, asked that her name not be used.
A former student, Abbie Hillis, said she contacted Shaw after seeing the post. “I wrote to her and told her I had a similar story,” she said in an interview, in which she consented to the use of her name.
After a third woman added her story, Hillis, a 2012 graduate of the university who said the university took no action when she reported being assaulted at an off-campus party, said she started a Facebook page Tuesday morning to collect the stories. She said more than 200 people had joined, with about a dozen women adding their complaints about the school’s response to incidents in which they, too, said they’d been assaulted.
On Tuesday, a petition on Change.org written as a letter to university President Michael Young and other administrators asked for the school to strengthen its policies for sexual assault claims. “As members of the Aggie Family, we do not want TAMU to be branded as a community that condones sexual misconduct,” concluded the letter, which had been signed by more than 600 people as of Wednesday afternoon.
Shaw then appeared on The Today Show Wednesday morning with another woman, Meghan Romere, who said she had been subjected to unwanted sexual advances in 2016 while working as an academic tutor for the Aggie football team. She said a wide receiver exposed himself during a tutoring session.
“We were alone, in a secluded room in the Nye Academic Center,” she wrote on Twitter. “He was easily twice my size, and sitting approximately two feet from me when he began masturbating in front of me, posturing in a threatening manner, and speaking to me in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable. I abruptly ended the session and left the room, trying to stay calm as he followed me out.”
Romere said she quit her tutoring job soon after. She added that another tutor had a similar incident happen to her.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the attorney for wide receiver Kirk Merritt argued the player had a bad case of jock itch, and the university had downgraded the incident from sexual exploitation to sexual harassment. Although Merritt was suspended during the school’s investigation of the incident, he was allowed to briefly rejoin the team. He was later dismissed, and transferred to another university.
In a written statement, Texas A&M said student privacy laws prohibited it from commenting on individual cases, but that “Texas A&M investigates every claim of sexual misconduct. When violations are confirmed, sanctions are imposed in all cases. A conduct review panel comprised of staff members determines sanctions on a case-by-case basis in consultation with all parties. All persons involved have the right to appeal.”
According to Shaw’s account, after the swim team member assaulted her she did not report it to the police, however, the university’s Title IX board found her story believable and suspended the man for a semester.
In a response posted on his law office’s Facebook page, the man’s Bryan attorney, Craig Greaves, described the encounter as consensual. He said the two students met on Tinder in September 2015 and returned to the man’s apartment, where they had sex.
Afterwards, Greaves wrote, Shaw “was upset because she wanted to remain at the residence and ‘cuddle’” and did not get a “goodbye kiss.”
When the swimmer returned to campus and rejoined the team, Shaw said she complained to administrators but only received an insulting letter back from an associate athletic director.
“I regret your displeasure with the perceived impact, and I wish you all the best as you continue to seek healing,” Lori Williams wrote, according to Shaw’s Twitter screen grab of what she said was a copy of the exchange.