Starting on Jan. 3, sau_confession, an Instagram page featuring anonymous messages submitted by various Instagram users, began receiving and posting a series of messages bringing attention to several incidents of alleged rape, pedophilia and assault at Southern Adventist University.
Several posts reference alleged sexual assaults at locations on campus. And, on Jan. 5, an anonymous Instagram user revealed a detailed account of how she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a theology major in the Testing Room located on the third floor of Bietz Center for Student Life. Though the individual who submitted the post, and others who commented, identified the alleged perpetrator by name, the Accent is not publishing the identity since the information could not be verified. Attempts to interview individuals who posted the allegations were unsuccessful.
However, as a result of the Instagram account’s influence, at least one case is in the process of being filed with the Southern Title IX office, according to Title IX Deputy and First Year Experience Coordinator Renita Moore. Moore provided no details about that complaint.
In an interview with the Accent, the person managing sau_confession said he recently took over the account and began posting the messages on behalf of the people who submitted them. The individual said the previous manager of the account had been censoring such posts before he took over, and he (the individual now running the account) has received threats of potential lawsuits, bodily harm and even death as a result of his decision to post the allegations. He said he recently transferred schools, due in part to the backlash, and wishes to remain anonymous for his own safety.
“I just wanted people to be aware of what’s going on at Southern, the account manager said of his decision to post the sexual assault allegations.. “… I just don’t want us to [continue] with this culture of not talking about it, or going to the school and not going to the police. I want these voices to be heard, and I want something to actually be done.”
But, while the account was influential in bringing a case forward, Moore expressed concern over the way incidents were revealed on the platform.
“I think sau_confession is unfortunate, because anybody can go on there and say anything about anybody, and all of a sudden they’re guilty,” Moore said. “And then, a bunch of people gang up on one person and have a vendetta against them, and then everybody starts trashing that person. So it’s kind of trial by fire, but there’s no proof.”
In addition to the messages detailing sexual assault encounters, some anonymous individuals who posted on the account accused the Title IX office of mishandling, and even ignoring, student reports of sexual assault. In response to such accusations, Dennis Negrón, vice president for Student Development and Title IX coordinator, said the safety of students comes before the reputation of the university in these cases.
“I can’t comment as to what may have happened before I became coordinator,” Negrón said. “I take every case very seriously, and my team will tell you that I do not put the reputation of the university before students. We attempt to be transparent. That’s why I put the [Title IX Report] out.”
Title IX concerns
According to the university’s 2022 Title IX Report, the number of reported Title IX incidents, which include sexual harassment, stalking, inappropriate touch/grouping, rape, voyeurism, dating and domestic violence, have almost doubled since 2019. A total of 42 reports were made in 2022; however, 36 of those cases were dropped by the complainant. Of the six that went forward, four were rape cases, one sexual harassment and one inappropriate touch.
“The reason our numbers are going up is because we’re finally getting people to come forward,” Moore said. “ … I think part of our culture, or Adventist culture, is: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’; [it’s] taboo to talk about it. I think that’s why our numbers have been so low.”
According to Negrón, Title IX is a federal civil rights law and outlines situations in which the university can take action. Both Negrón and Moore voiced frustrations over recent changes in Title IX. One such change removes cases that occur off Southern’s campus from the jurisdiction of Title IX.
“[Off-campus cases] is the most frustrating aspect of Title IX, not only for me, but for students,” Negrón said. “The federal government is quite clear. If it didn’t happen on your campus, the students should be going to the police and not to us. That said, I do have some type of recourse. I can send it to Student Conduct, the Dean of Students office, and say, ‘This person allegedly has not been living by our community standards, by our Code of Conduct, so you handle it.’ And we’ve actually been able to dismiss students in the past by doing that.”
In addition, the university cannot take action if the accused is not a student. However, according to Negrón, the university can put a ban on said individual, restricting their access to campus.
In an interview with the Accent, Assistant Chief of Police Jamie Heath advised students to contact the police as soon as possible with reports of sexual misconduct.
“What makes it difficult for us is when we get accusations that are months and months old,” Heath said. “As far as timeframe goes for the college, whether [it’s] an accusation from the semester before or from the school year before, if we don’t get it when it happens, there’s no physical evidence. A conviction or anything like that is going to be extremely difficult and nearly impossible to get in order to get that person help.”
Heath, who has served the Collegedale community for over twenty years, stated that the Collegedale Police Department has had issues with the way Southern has dealt with Title IX cases in the past. However, there have been no complaints about the most recent administration.
“In those previous administrations, there have been frustrations on how things are handled,” Heath said. “I can tell you, though, in this current administration, with Dr. Ken Shaw, with our cooperation with Kevin Penrod, Sean Haas, Campus Safety, our good working relationship with Dennis Negrón and opening up a seat on the Chief”s Roundtable Advisory Committee to a member of Southern staff – those concerns no longer exist. This current administration has been very open, very cooperative with us. Not only cooperative, but has reached out for our input, for our inclusion.”
Despite the diminishing of evidence over time, Heath stated that it is never too late for a survivor of sexual violence to come forward.
“It is never too late to tell anybody what’s happened to you,” he said. “It’s not only good to document things on paper, just from a legal standpoint, but it helps that person mentally.”
Regarding the posts on sau_confession, Negrón stated that in order to take action, students need to come forward with information.