Former Duke College Republicans still seek resolution

Robinette, Satell ?le cases against Duke

Due to a reporting error, this story incorrectly stated charges against Cliff Satell. He was originally charged with felony second and third degree sexual exploitation of a minor, but pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. The story also misstated John Eick’s former title with the N.C. Federation of College Republicans as co-chairman. He was chairman. This story has been changed to reflect these changes. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

A year ago, Justin Robinette, a junior at Duke University at the time, was removed from his position as chairman of the Duke College Republicans for reasons that are still disputed.

Robinette claimed he was impeached because of his sexual orientation — he is gay — but members of the board who impeached him cited other reasons, such as neglect of his responsibilities as chairman.

Robinette approached university administrators with details of his harassment, but his complaints were sent to student government and ultimately dismissed, so he turned to the U.S. Department of Education to take a look at the ways he believed Duke failed to take appropriate action with his case.

After months of filing complaints with different governing bodies, Robinette is still fighting in hopes that the outcome of the federal investigation will establish a set procedure for students who are harassed to seek help from the university.

“I would like to see this whole process as benefiting other students in the future,” he said. “It’s broadly to make the environment better for everyone else.”

Although Duke is a private university, it receives some federal funding, so it can be subjected to a department investigation.

Since his April 2010 impeachment, Robinette and Cliff Satell, a supporter of Robinette and former vice chairman of the Duke College Republicans, have filed five complaints with the department.

Three cases based on their complaints about discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation at the university are being investigated, according to a department spokesman.

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke, and General Counsel Pamela Bernard both declined to comment on the investigations.

The investigation of Robinette’s complaint, which claims the university treated his case differently than if he were female and failed to appropriately supervise it, is in the resolution process.

“As the investigation moved forward, the university almost immediately said, ‘We want to resolve the issue,’” he said.

The other two complaints being investigated were filed by Satell. The first alleges that the university racially and sexually discriminated and failed to appropriately handle the discrimination complaints. The other claims the university retaliated against Satell for filing a previous complaint.

“I got my fair share of death threats and blackmail,” Satell said.

He said he and Robinette wanted to handle their complaints privately with the university from the beginning. But the university did not want to cooperate.

“I’m not trying to prolong things,” he said.

“I want to move on.”

The department has not begun to investigate Robinette’s March complaint that the university also retaliated against him for claiming he was sexually harassed. The department is evaluating the evidence he presented to see if it merits an investigation, according to the department spokesman.

Robinette filed a fifth complaint, which is about discrimination by the N.C. Federation of College Republicans, Monday — the day his tenure as co-chairman of the federation would have ended had he not resigned. He was elected to the position in March 2010 but said he was encouraged to resign a few weeks later and complied.

UNC student John Eick was elected as chairman of the federation with Robinette.

Eick said Robinette voluntarily resigned without any prodding. In fact, Eick said, he sent an email to Robinette asking him not to resign in order to preserve continuity.

Satell said he knew standing up for Robinette would risk exposing his personal life.

He was charged with felonies including second and third degree exploitation of a minor in April 2009 and pleaded guilty to preparation and dissemination of obscene material in February 2011, according to court documents.

He said he doubts the intent of the article published in The Duke Chronicle in November 2010 about his original charges because it was published more than a year after the original charges.

“I think it’s important that people understand that the story coming out the way it did is not an isolated event,” he said.

The Chronicle said its editorial decisions are subjective.

“We prefer to let our newspaper coverage speak for itself,” wrote Lindsey Rupp, Chronicle editor, in an email.

“As with any situation, we will continue to report developments relevant to our community.”

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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