This story contains potentially offensive language.
Westhampton College junior Whitney Ralston walked out of her apartment a few weeks ago to find the word “slut” etched into the paint on the hood of her car.
Just days later, Cecilia Carreras, a fellow Westhampton student and friend of Ralston’s, found her car vandalized in a similar manner in the same University Forest Apartment block.
“I think we’re just so used to the level of retaliation at this point, it doesn’t surprise me,” Ralston said.
Six weeks have passed since Carreras and Ralston publicly condemned University of Richmond’s Title IX department for ostensibly making insensitive and offensive comments, executing poor investigative practices and acting in ways that favored accused sexual offenders.
In the time since, the two women have endured various degrees of retaliation.
Threatening and insulting words have steadily flowed into both students’ social media inboxes. Carreras received a Facebook message from an anonymous account calling her a “bitch,” a “c---” and “embarrassing,” and suggesting that she “say you had some bad sex and move on like any normal human being.”
Carreras also encountered a picture of a composite for Kappa Delta, a sorority of which she is a member, on which her headshot was defaced. The composite was found in an apartment near where the students’ cars were damaged, Carreras said, although she elected not to specify the apartment block.
Though difficult to cope with at first, the hateful acts Carreras has weathered have become easier to dismiss, she said.
“I feel worse for the person who’s retaliating against me,” Carreras said. “What is your life that that’s how low you would stoop?”
Tim Meacham, a campus police detective who has been involved in investigating retaliation claims from both students, said he could not talk specifically about any response that Carreras and Ralston have faced to avoid compromising ongoing investigations.
“We want [students facing retaliation] to document everything,” Meacham said. “If anything seems out of the ordinary, document it… It’s ultimately so that we can keep that running record of what’s going on.”
The University of Richmond Police Department has taken steps to accommodate both students, which included offering Ralston a police escort to help her feel safe while walking around campus, Ralston said. Although her alleged assaulter still attends Richmond, Ralston said, she declined because she would rather not draw more attention to herself.
Meacham said police escorts were available for any student upon request.
The university administration’s response hasn’t been friendly either, both women said. Richmond College Dean Joe Boehman, Associate Westhampton College Dean Kerry Fankhauser and other unspecified administrators “actively ignore us,” Carreras said. “They don’t look at us.”
University Communications declined to make any administrators available for this piece.
Meacham criticized the behavior of any service provider who allows uncomfortable interactions to get in the way of helping students, but also made it clear that students should understand the awkward nature of certain circumstances, especially those involving Title IX.
Ralston says she has experienced a unique reaction from the administration. Since she is a junior — unlike Carreras, who is in her final semester — Westhampton College administrators have strongly encouraged Ralston to transfer schools, an option she is considering, she said.
At times, she feels as if her deans are doing what’s best for her by trying to help her find a new school, she said. The extent to which they facilitate the process, though, makes Ralston feel as if she’s being forced out of Richmond.
“I want to believe they’re trying to help me,” Ralston said. “But they’re expediting this process… They want me gone.”
In spite of the malicious acts and tense interactions that the students say they have experienced since coming forward, Carreras and Ralston both made it clear that nothing has been as traumatic as the alleged assaults and the subsequent handling of their Title IX cases.
“There’s nothing anybody could say or do that would be worse than what he did made me feel and how the school’s response affected me,” Carreras said. “Nothing will ever be as bad as how the university responded to my reporting.”
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