A graduate student at the University of Missouri is suing the institution after he was suspended from the campus for four years for what the university considers sexual harassment.
Former University of Missouri graduate student Jeremy Rowles, an African American who was pursuing a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, was expelled from the school for a period of four years after the university’s Title IX board determined that he sexually harassed a woman when repeatedly asking her out on dates.
Rowles met the woman, Annalise Breux, an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, in the university’s cafe, and eventually enrolled in a dancing class taught by Breux. Rowles asked Breux out, and misunderstood her reply to mean she may be interested in him at a later time. After receiving a Facebook message from Breux, explaining that she was not romantically interested in Rowles, he agreed to stop communicating with her outside of the dancing class and cafe, but continued to pursue Breux romantically.
The matter was eventually investigated by the university, which found that Rowles was guilty of sexually harassment and stalking Breux, and expelled Rowles from the university for four years. Rowles proceeded to appeal the decision, and while the university maintained that the original judgment was correct, Rowles’ expulsion was reduced from four years to two.
Rowles then proceeded to file a lawsuit to reverse the decision, leading to shocking claims from the university’s Title IX enforcement staff regarding the organization’s rules and their interpretation coming out in discovery, with the question of whether asking a fellow student on a date could be considered sexual harassment among the most disconcerting.
One university official was asked by Rowles’ attorney whether the university would consider “a date an unwanted sexual advance,” and the official replied that if they “keep turning him down and he keeps asking,” then they would consider it potential sexual harassment.
Most concerning, during the disposition it was revealed that the university’s own Title IX office would likely not have been able to help Rowles learn the definitions he might have needed to avoid this situation, with one Title IX official telling lawyers they “don’t know” what answer would have been provided, also do not know if another Title IX official might have provided another, contradictory answer.
Rowles’ lawyer maintains that the language used in Rowles’ communications were not harassment, and are protected under the First Amendment.
The University of Missouri has come under fire over free speech issues in recent years, as the university amassed national notoriety when a now-fired professor of Communication demanded “some muscle” to remove a journalist from a public protest on the campus.
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