A former University of Missouri grad student allegedly sexually harassed and stalked a woman — then sued the school for racial discrimination when he was banned from campus.
In 2016, the school in Columbia, Mo., ruled that Jeremy Rowles, 40, an African-American PhD student in cultural anthropology had violated Title IX, a law that protects students against sexual harassment, by harassing and stalking classmate Annalise Breaux. After an investigation, Rowles was suspended for a period of four years (later reduced to two) and banned indefinitely from the campus residence halls and the Student Recreation Center.
Rowles filed a lawsuit in December 2017, arguing that other students found guilty of sexual harassment and stalking received much lighter sentences because they are white. On Monday, Rowles’s attorney J. Andrew Hirth filed a motion asking the judge to rule in the exiled student’s favor, allowing him to return to the University of Missouri with a clean record.
According to the motion, Rowles and Breaux met in fall 2015 at Kaldi’s coffeehouse, where Breaux was a barista. Rowles didn’t receive his correct order, so Breaux gave him a token for a free drink.
In the spring, the two met again — Rowles enrolled in dance classes taught by Breaux at the Student Recreation Center, and he asked her out on a date. His advance made Breaux feel “extremely uncomfortable,” so she declined; however, the next week, Rowles started sending her Facebook messages “which became more frequent and increasingly romantic in nature.”
Breaux responded over Facebook: “Jeremy, I really appreciate your feedback about my class and choreography, but these messages are getting excessive. I think our friendship needs to remain in the professional setting. Many of the things you say, like that Instagram comment for example, is over the top and I wouldn’t be comfortable hanging out outside of my places of work. I still want you to come to Tiger Tease and enjoy your time there, but I need my space outside of class and I think a line has been crossed here.”
Rowles was apologetic. “Oh my god, I am so sorry Annalise!!” he responded. “I thought… I am so sorry. I took our conversation last Tuesday as you agreeing to a date. I am so sorry, I read your reaction completely the wrong way. I feel so bad that I caused you to be uncomfortable, I really apologize.” He promised to keep it “strictly friendly from here on out.”
A few months later, Rowles got in touch again, asking Breaux where he could take private dance lessons, and she referred him to the Student Recreation Center. Later, he asked her to give him private lessons, and she said no.
After an October class, Breaux “dashed off to the bathroom to avoid [Rawles],” so he gave her co-teacher a note for Breaux. It contained the lyric “Take me back to the start” from the Coldplay song “The Scientist” and the free-drink token he had saved from their first meeting. Breaux called the note “bizarre.”
A week later, Rowles handed Breaux a three-page letter that “contained apologies and a confession of ‘love'” which she said made her “extremely uncomfortable,” and she filed a complaint with the school’s Title IX office accusing Rowles of “harassment on the basis of sex.”
This was the second investigation of Rowles for behavior that was considered inappropriate. In September 2015, a student complained that as a teaching assistant, Rowles invited her to his office at night and suggested that her grade would improve with sexual favors. Rowles wasn’t found guilty of sexual harassment; however, according to documents in Hirth’s motion, it was deemed “concerning that [Rowles] failed to learn from” the previous incident.
On Friday, some media outlets cherry-picked a small detail from the motion — a compilation of four different lengthy depositions. While Hirth attempted to prove that Rawles’s behavior did not fit the definition of sexual harassment because he was a student of Breaux’s and therefore not in a position of power, he asked Cathy Scroggs, the former vice chancellor for student affairs, whether Rawles’s size was a factor.
“Was it just his size?” Scroggs was asked, to which she answered: “His physical size.”
Some publications ran with this detail. The College Fix wrote, “Mizzou official: Asking a smaller woman on a date violates Title IX,” and the Daily Wire wrote, “Mizzou Official Claims Tall Men Asking Out Short Women Could Constitute Sexual Misconduct.” The National Review focused on the same angle — calling Rawles’s behavior merely “pestering” — then retracted the article for omitting important details such as Rowles’s “repeated unwelcome advances.”
A representative of the University of Missouri told Yahoo Lifestyle: “The information regarding a recent Title IX case at the University of Missouri presented in the Daily Wire and other media is out of context and incomplete, creating an inaccurate picture of the situation. These reports left out important facts that can be found in court records regarding the suspended student’s repeated conduct both in person and on social media. Multiple complaints and concerns were expressed by at least four female students, and they provide important contextual information about this situation. The University of Missouri stands by its decision — a decision that was made to protect the welfare of our students.”
Hirth acknowledges that recent headlines are a “gross oversimplification” of a very complicated case. “The pretrial motion is only a portion of a lawsuit taken in which both parties seek information from the opposing side,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s also not a deposition — it’s a request for the judge to rule in favor of the plaintiff given the evidence.”
Rowles’s legal team is arguing that the two white students found guilty of stalking and sexual harassment received minor punishments of counseling and a six-month suspension, despite the fact that one was accused of nonconsensual sexual contact, nonconsensual sexual intercourse and threatening or intimidating behaviors, none of which they say apply to Rawles’s interaction with Breaux.
“The university can’t provide an explanation for why Jeremy, a black man, was treated so differently than his white peers,” Hirth tells Yahoo Lifestyle. He’s arguing that Title IX’s definition of sexual harassment is vague, allowing universities too much power in determining guilt. Hirth agrees that Rawles’s behavior was “gushy” and excessive but says he just failed to read social cues. “Jeremy didn’t take the hint.”
The date for Rawles’s lawsuit is set for June.
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- Google employee: We’ve documented dozens of harassment claims that haven’t been made public
- Activists respond to DeVos’s Title IX rules: ‘34% of survivors don’t graduate … that number [will] grow’
- School pulls controversial assignment asking girls how they can ‘avoid’ sexual assault