I’m A Survivor & Betsy DeVos’ New Rules Would Have Absolutely Destroyed My Life

Morgan Robinson
·14 mins read

When I woke up in the hospital, brutally hungover and still tripping on acid, my first thought was that the lights in the emergency room were too bright. I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten there, but based on my lack of clothing and my vomit-covered phone lying on the floor, I deduced that whatever had happened the night before had been catastrophic. My friend who had brought me there was lying in a makeshift bed in the hallway, asleep. He came with me in the ambulance to be helpful, but at some point in the evening, he started vomiting on himself and ended up getting admitted into the emergency room as well. We were both stunned, looking at our hospital wristbands and trying to put together exactly what had happened the night before.

It was Halloween weekend, and I probably wasn’t the first college freshman hospitalized for alcohol poisoning that night at that hospital. The acid was a separate issue. I had no memory of taking it, nor did I have any clear idea of who might have given it to me. I left the hospital, only nine hours into a 12-hour acid trip, in a state of disbelief. I prayed that I was having a drug-fueled nightmare and that I would soon wake up safe in my own bed. My prayers were not answered. The nightmare was real, and it was only beginning.

When I got back to my dorm, I took a shower. I didn’t recognize my body. There were bruises everywhere and I was covered in scratches. When I tried to put the pieces of the night before back together, it felt like trying to summarize a movie that I’d only seen once, years ago. The details were so fuzzy, permeated only by flickers of images that didn’t feel entirely real.

Some things came back easily, though. I remember going to the liquor store, getting ready, and walking to the party. But the next thing that I remember clearly is waking up in the hospital. Everything in-between is questionable. I remember drinking a couple of shots and maybe a beer or two, not nearly enough alcohol for me to black out. I remember standing in a corner of the party armed with a red Solo cup when everything started to fade out. I started to feel as though I was no longer exclusively under the influence of alcohol. I was reminded of one night during my senior year of high school; I had had a terrible reaction to smoking pot that, unbeknownst to me, had been laced with Ketamine, a general anesthetic sometimes used as a date rape drug. I was brought back to that night, recognizing the same feeling of disorienting high that began to overwhelm me. And then, nothing. Nothing that I know for certain.

Since that night, I’ve had an opportunity to read the police reports and talk to people who were at the party. The police who arrived at my dorm room noted in their reports that I told them I must have been given a date rape drug as well as acid. And yet, despite my voiced suspicions, as far as I’m aware, I was not drug-tested at the hospital. I also don’t remember being given the option to have a rape kit collected, nor access to counseling. I still do not know if I was assaulted. I have no memory or any solid evidence that I was. When I woke up in the hospital, the clasp of the bra I had worn was broken and the underwire was poking out into my sternum, as if someone had tried to remove it and accidentally ripped the lining. But that doesn’t prove anything conclusive. When I showered, I had not been cognizant of the fact that in doing so, I was erasing any form of evidence left on my body, except for the bruises. I had been carried back to my dorm room by a heroic but very small boy, who dropped me several times. That explained the bruising and scratches on my knees, elbows, ribs, and shoulders. It did not, however, explain the bruises on the insides of both my thighs. I remember staring at them in the shower, two symmetrical bruises, one on either leg. They looked so similar to handprints. I placed my own hand against them, noticing that the bruises were darkest around my fingertips. But that doesn’t prove anything, either.

According to someone at the party, I disappeared for some amount of time and returned seemingly more intoxicated, alone, before announcing that I’d been given acid. Still, this is not conclusive. In photos taken after my return to the party, the front of my dress was visibly ripped around where the underwire of my bra had been, whereas it did not appear to be ripped before I had left. The clothing I wore that evening was mysteriously missing from my dorm room when I returned from the hospital. But, again, this is not conclusive. I am unsure of what I believe happened that night, and I am mostly left with fragmented memories and vague indications, which has only led to fragmented, vague inferences. What’s troubling is that I do remember saying over and over: “I think someone tried to hurt me.”

What’s troubling is that I do remember saying over and over: ‘I think someone tried to hurt me.’

Being drugged and waking up in an unfamiliar hospital with no idea how I’d gotten there or what exactly had happened was frightening; the way that my college handled it resulted in prolonged trauma that I believe nearly cost me my life. Two days after my horrific experience, I was summoned by the Purchase College Office of Community Standards for a conference regarding my actions during the previous weekend. I gave the conduct officer the few details that I remembered. He asked me if I had been assaulted. I said I didn’t know.

“I believe someone drugged me with the intention of hurting me.” I could feel the lump in my throat swelling. He didn’t act like he believed me. I began to wonder what it was about me that made me seem like a liar, and then he explained that the police officers had found an empty bottle of vodka on my desk.

“It looks like you pregamed, blacked out, and took the acid.”

He continued to say that an allegation of consumption of a hallucinogen was a very serious offense at my small liberal arts college and that he would likely suspend my residential housing. I started crying and couldn’t stop. I explained to him that I live nearly five hours away and that suspension of my housing would mean the end of my academic career. I had spent my entire life living in a suburb in upstate New York. I had been so desperate to move out of my hometown, and the thought of being sent home was devastating beyond measure. He passed me a box of tissues as I hyperventilated.

“Who do I speak to about dropping out?” was all I could think to ask.

He replied that I could stay in school if I lived at an Airbnb or at the YWCA. I kept crying. But then he explained that because of the Good Samaritan law, which mandates amnesty for drug use when the user’s life is in danger and instructs another party to call the police, I would be given a lesser sentence than suspension: disciplinary and residential probation. At this point, I was confused but relieved. I didn’t want to fight it, I couldn’t. I was so exhausted, and my neck was cold and wet with tears. I signed whatever he put in front of me without reading it. The words didn’t make sense; I couldn’t make them out and I had no one with me to help me understand what was happening. I was still panicking, still unable to breathe. I needed to get out of that room. I signed, unknowingly waiving my right to a hearing and my right to appeal. My case was closed.

The months that followed were disastrous for my mental health, despite my efforts to conceal my depression and anxiety. For the rest of the fall semester, I maintained a 4.0 GPA and worked full-time on top of my classes. But when I returned home for winter break, I felt destroyed by the fall semester. I was exhausted.

I believed that I had truly reached my rock bottom during winter break, but what I felt then does not even remotely compare to the absolute emptiness that ate away at me when I returned to campus for the spring semester. The depression continued and was augmented by a debilitating fear that I would be victimized yet again. Every single passing day felt impossible; more than anything, I wanted to die. I spent my time in classes with my eyes glazed over, daydreaming of the many alluring ways I could put myself out of my misery. Imagining my own death was my favorite and only hobby. I felt utterly shattered by the way my institution had dismissed me and treated me like a liar. I didn’t feel safe on campus. I felt worthless. I knew I was worthless. I made a plan. I wrote a note. I imagined my mother getting the phone call that her only child had been found dead. I was at my breaking point. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but I knew that I would not be able to hold myself together for much longer.

Then, I gave myself one last desperate shot. I scheduled a meeting with my academic advisor. She had been my professor for an introduction to gender and sexuality class during the fall semester and I always felt safe with her, even when being on campus felt unsafe. I explained to her how the school had effectively silenced me and she agreed that the situation was not dealt with correctly. When classes were canceled due to COVID-19, I moved back into my parents’ house. There, I and my academic advisor met with the Title IX officer and the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs via Zoom. I took the calls sitting on my childhood bed. It was a strange feeling. I finally believed that my institution would see the catastrophic consequences that resulted from the ways in which my case was handled, so sure my college would not brush my concerns aside for a second time. Again, I was mistaken.

On May 20, 2020, I was contacted by my college’s Title IX investigator. Her investigation concluded that the conduct officer’s disbelief at my statement and his failure to report to the Title IX office was a simple miscommunication, and therefore not a Title IX violation. She stated that because the conduct officer had read in the police reports (which were taken while I was under the influence of alcohol, acid, and possibly a date rape drug) that I stated I hadn’t been assaulted, he simply did not realize it was his responsibility to report my allegations to Title IX. I entrusted a college employee with the information that someone had tried to hurt me on campus, and he never reported my allegation. The Title IX investigator has effectively closed my case once again. My institution has cast aside my concerns for a second, heartbreaking time. The conduct officer will continue to have the ability to dismiss the concerns of women like me.

On May 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education, currently led by Betsy DeVos, had announced sweeping changes to Title IX, a U.S. law prohibiting sex discrimination at federally funded schools, while colleges were preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic. Just a few days ago, the new rules went into effect. Among the most extreme changes included instating a new, narrower definition of sexual harassment, limiting institutions’ responsibilities in investigating off-campus assault, and mandating that colleges perform live, in-person hearings with cross-examination of both the accused and the accuser in each sexual harassment investigation. These regulations are dangerous; when victims are unwilling to report, their assailants are able to continue their behavior without consequence. The regulations will not ensure due process through forcing colleges to construct pseudo-courtrooms; they will effectively silence survivors.

While men’s rights advocates support the rules, their critics have vowed to fight them. “We are confident that these dangerous rules will eventually be set aside — but schools can’t wait,” Emily Martin, vice president for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center, told The Washington Post. “Schools must set a better standard for students by increasing protections for survivors of sexual harassment, instead of using this as an opportunity to risk student safety and dignity. As students head back to school during a health pandemic surrounded by uncertainty, schools can at least have students’ backs when it comes to sexual harassment and assault.”

I believe these changes could potentially have killed me if they had been announced while I was making the decision to speak up about being silenced by the very institution that I believed would protect me. Betsy DeVos has defended the new rules, claiming that “we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence, and due process.” But what about my due process? Aren’t I at least deserving of the same “presumption of innocence?” These regulations legally solidify an assertion that has previously been made clear by my institution and by the systemic mishandling of sexual assault cases at colleges across the nation: Survivors are seen as expendable; we can be tossed out and pushed aside with little effort on the part of our institutions. I will not be pushed aside any longer; I will not be thrown away. I am refusing to allow anyone to tell me that my story — that what happened to me and how I was treated — is the result of a simple miscommunication. My institution may have dismissed my concerns, but I am going to continue to fight for justice for college survivors.

My institution may have dismissed my concerns, but I am going to continue to fight for justice for college survivors.

I am not the only student who is dissatisfied by Purchase’s handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations. I, along with several other brave survivors at Purchase, have committed to organizing on our campus for reform. We are advocating for increased employee training in relation to properly addressing instances of sexual assault and harassment, and we are working as a group to determine ways in which the school can better support survivors and ultimately make Purchase a safer place.

In November, I plan to take the LSAT. I hope to one day have the ability to fight for someone in the way that I had hoped my institution would for me. No matter how I have been dismissed by my college, I am a valuable student. I deserve to be here. I am not expendable.

Morgan Robinson is a student at Purchase College, SUNY, class of 2023.

All parties mentioned in this story were contacted for comment prior to publication. Purchase College provided the following statement: “Although the details in the article do not align with our reports of this matter, to maintain student privacy and ensure that we are complying with FERPA, we are unable to comment further.” The school also referred us to its policies on reporting sexual assault, stating that reports of any nature that allege sexual assault are investigated by the Title IX Office. Purchase College also said The Good Samaritan Policy in its Code of Conduct is applied “to encourage students or others who may be reluctant to get immediate medical or other professional assistance or provide it to others, because of concerns that their own behavior may be a violation of the Community Standards Code of Conduct and/or law.” No other parties provided comment.

If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

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