The students claim that Hillsdale College refuses to adequately investigate sexual assault complaints, instead blaming students for their own abuse.
Two students have filed a lawsuit against Hillsdale College, a Christian university in Southeast Michigan, claiming that its undergraduates face “an unusually high risk of sexual assault” because administrators fail to either implement or enforce proper investigative procedures, instead blaming victims for their own abuse.
According to The Detroit News, the lawsuit asserts that Hillsdale College presents itself as a safe space that “maintains ‘by precept and example’ the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith.”
However, attorneys for the students say that Hillsdale “has deliberately fostered a campus environment that exposes students to an unacceptable and unusually high risk of sexual assault.”
“When brave students report their experiences of sexual assault to school officials, they are met not with support, but with sham investigations, arbitrary decisions, and punishments,” the lawsuit alleges. “In response to calls for transparency and accountability, Hillsdale instead silences and threatens survivors, blaming them, not their assailants, for their assaults.”
Both of the students named in the complaint—Grace Chen and Danielle Villareale—say that say that their attempts to report assault were dismissed by Hillsdale administrators.
“Although [Chen] reported the rape to Hillsdale authorities, the school […] failed to thoroughly investigate the crime, refused to protect her from her assailant and did not explain its investigation findings in writing,” the lawsuit alleges. “Plaintiff Chen continued to have to see her rapist multiple times a week at track-related events and in a 10-person class they attended together during the fall 2022 semester.”
“My goal in filing this complaint is to prevent others attending Hillsdale from enduring the same painful experience I did,” Chen said.
Villareale, meanwhile, said that she wishes to “shed light on a systemic issue at Hillsdale College concerning how sexual assault reports are handled.”
“By filing this case, we aim to bring about meaningful change that ensures the safety and well-being of all students at the college,” Villareale said in a statement.
The lawsuit indicates that Hillsdale College initially supported Villareale’s position, before inexplicably backtracking.
“Villarreal reported the rape to the police and sought support from Hillsdale,” the lawsuit says. “Hillsdale backtracked on its initial indication that it believed her, refused to put anything in writing, blamed Plaintiff Villarreal for her rape, and threatened her when she followed up about the investigation and penalty.”
Attorneys for the women say that Hillsdale College has created an environment conducive to sexual assault by refusing to accept government funding.
“At Hillsdale, students are at an unusually high risk of sexual assault because Hillsdale fails to have or enforce policies that prevent sexual assault,” the lawsuit says. “This is no accident: Hillsdale does not accept government funding in a misguided and ineffective attempt to avoid its obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX).”
Annika Martin, lead attorney in the lawsuit, said that, while the Title IX argument is “novel,” Hillsdale College is still bound by similar obligations.
“You still have a duty outside of Title IX to protect the safety and well-being of your students,” she said. “So even if we weren’t bringing a Title IX claim, you still don’t get to let this happen.”
Furthermore, Hillsdale College’s internal sexual assault protocols are purportedly “so deficient” that, even if they were enforced, they would likely have little impact.
“The policy fails to discuss consent; allocates all of the details of an investigation and punishment to the discretion of the Deans; and fails to guarantee confidentiality for reporting students,” the lawsuit said. “Students who are aware of the policy have advocated for it to be strengthened; Hillsdale has repeatedly refused. As a result of this institutional failure, students at Hillsdale are vulnerable to sexual assault from their peers.”