Unsafe for student guilty of sexual interference to return to University of Calgary campus… never mind his potential victims

Opinion piece originally published in The Weal January 29, 2018.

The Connor Neurauter controversy is a disgrace to the University of Calgary (U of C), and displays the work still required to confront sexual interference and institutional complicity in it.

Nearauter, 21, recently recieved a prison sentence for sexual interference with a 13-year-old girl in 2015. He was sentenced in Kamloops, B.C., and his sentence was delayed in order to allow him to finish his classes at U of C.

The University’s handling of the situation has been baffling at best, completely tone-deaf at worst. And, although Neurauter has now been effectively driven off campus, though not expelled, the administration still botched the situation so badly that student activists are fuming, and they should be.

Everything in the university’s conduct, from its vague and flawed non-academic misconduct policy to its clumsy and insensitive response to students, suggests a university prioritizing a convicted sex offender over the safety of students.

Not only did it expose a gaping hole in its non-academic misconduct policy, the university failed at the basic task of sending an unequivocal message of zero-tolerance towards sexual interference.

Even if one takes the most generous assessment of the U of C’s too slow, heavy-handed and arguably condescending response to the student protests, it offers a lesson on how not to respond when accused of tolerating sexual interference.

Briana Stallcup, a U of C student and a member of the university’s Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club (CARE), said that both the university’s initial response to not formally expel the student guilty of sexual interference was unacceptable.

“[It] showcased a profound lack of sensitivity to the topic of sexual assault.

“I think [the university’s] response demonstrated more self defense than empathy for the rightfully upset students,” she said.

The pace by which the university responded to the allegations was also pathetic.

“The burden of correcting this situation fell largely to students,” said Stallcup.

In response to an online petition to expel Neurauter, with more than 75,000 signatures to date, the university stated that they “had no grounds” to expel him because the offense he was convicted of occurred before he was a student.

Indeed, U of C’s non-academic misconduct policy shows this loophole: it defines “students” as those “registered in a course or course of study at the time” misconduct occurs.

However, Stallcup also disagreed with this interpretation.

She said that the wording of this policy was “very ambiguous,” and that many groups and students had argued the policy could be used as legal justification for his removal.

She also said that the U of C displayed “a desire to distance themselves” and “write it off as a legal matter.”

But, even if one gives the U of C the benefit of the doubt, the fact remains that they wrote a policy where a man who solicited nude photos of a 13-year-old girl and blackmailed her with them, was able to attend the university.

Basic common sense says this is unacceptable.

By comparison, SAIT’s student code of conduct defines a student as anyone with a SAIT ID number, and explicitly lists sexual assault as a non-academic misconduct.

One hopes there is not as much room for interpretation in this policy.

The other question, of course, is why the judge in this case saw fit to give Neurauter a sentence where he could finish his schooling, while delaying any consequences for his actions. That is a valid, but separate, question.

Universities are not the justice system, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a power and responsibility to not be complicit in rape culture.

Three students told the U of C’s student newspaper, The Gauntlet, that campus security had removed hundreds of posters they posted on campus with the words “Expel Connor Neurauter.”

That the U of C would respond so poorly to a sexual offender being revealed on their campus, further shows the importance of confronting such complicity in our institutions.

Fortunately for activists, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements show U of C picked about the worst possible time to botch this situation.