Another student at Emerson College in Boston has come forward and added her name to a federal complaint claiming the private institution failed to adequately respond after she was sexually assaulted at school.
Sarita Nadkarni, an Emerson junior, said the university was unhelpful when she struggled in class after reporting her sexual assault. She ended up on academic probation, at risk of losing her scholarship money and potentially being suspended. She added her name last week to a complaint filed earlier this month with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which alleges the college violated the gender equity law Title IX in their treatment of sexual violence victims.
"During this entire time while I was trying to heal, I was not doing well and not getting the academic support that I needed," Nadkarni said.
Dr. Sylvia Spears, Emerson's vice president for Diversity and Inclusion, noted she could not speak to specifics due to college policy and privacy law, but insisted the college takes these allegations very seriously.
"While there are some things we do well," Spears said, "I do think there are things that we can do better."
Nadkarni said she had a difficult time concentrating in class after being sexually assaulted in her campus residence hall on March 12, her 21st birthday. A couple days after her attack, she reported the assault to campus police and began working to get some help to keep up in her classes.
To this date, Nadkarni has not heard back from the cops, despite providing her statement to campus and city authorities and allowing officers to view the room where she said the assault took place. Nadkarni said she didn't press police as the spring 2013 semester progressed because she was preoccupied with trying to make sure she didn't ruin her grades.
The academic counseling center was very busy, and Nadkarni claims it was "extremely difficult" to get an appointment to meet with anyone. She explained her situation to officials from the Dean of Students office, but had to arrange to take incompletes with three classes on her own. One of her professors requested an email from the Office of Student Conduct to authorize the incomplete. When Nadkarni requested that letter, she says the Office of Student Conduct told her it was not allowed to write such an email. They instead suggested Nadkarni share an email from the Dean of Students office, reminding the faculty she was going through a difficult time.
"Outside of you communicating your concerns to your professor, I'm not sure what else (if anything) can be done," the college official wrote to Nadkarni, according to a copy of the email provided to The Huffington Post.
After some hurdles, Nadkarni said she entered the summer with the understanding she had time beyond the end of the spring semester to finish the work for three courses.
"I was under the impression that [my professors] were made aware of the situation, and that I would at least have some time to get back up and working at my full, 100 percent," Nadkarni said.
But Nadkarni got a letter in the summer, she said, informing her she was on academic probation. The letter threatened that she could have her scholarship taken away and potentially face suspension, according to Nadkarni. She turned in her coursework before the fall semester began, but on Sept. 11, she received an another email titled "Unsatisfactory Progress," reminding her that she was still on academic probation. The email told her she must complete mid-semester evaluations and suggested she remain aware of the college's suspension policies.
"I don't think it was fair that they didn't take into consideration what had happened," Nadkarni said. She was also "furious" after the Sept. 11 note, since she'd already turned in all of her make-up work. A couple days later, she got another email saying to disregard that previous letter. But it was "ridiculous to be put on academic probation after having gone through that," Nadkarni said.
Spears, Emerson's vice president for Diversity and Inclusion, noted that the school is currently undergoing an external review and an internal review into their sexual misconduct practices and how they respond to reports of assault.
"We anticipate those two reviews will provide insight and guidance about the best structural approach," Spears said.
Emerson President M. Lee Pelton has also pledged to take steps to improve the college's handling of sexual misconduct cases.
The U.S. Department of Education has not made a decision about whether they will open an investigation into the federal complaint against Emerson.