After six months of wrangling with Duke University administration over his harassment claims, senior Justin Robinette has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the school.
The complaint contends that administrators discriminated against him because he is gay and failed to take appropriate action when he claimed he was being harassed by students and fellow members of the Duke College Republicans.
Robinette was chairman of the club before being impeached in April, an action he claims was taken because of his sexuality.
The group’s executive board has maintained it was for poor leadership.
Since leaving the club, Robinette and former member Cliff Satell allege they have been continually harassed and threatened by club members and other Duke students.
When the last of their attempts to go through the student government to resolve claims failed, Robinette met privately with several administrators, including Dean of Students Stephen Bryan and President Richard Brodhead.
“The meeting with Bryan proved to be the most humiliating,” Robinette said. “He told me he had a theory that as a closeted gay guy in the organization, I had developed sexual feelings and was rejected, and that explains this scorn I have towards them.”
Both Bryan and Larry Moneta, the vice president of student affairs who also met with Robinette, declined to comment.
Following the meeting, Robinette and Satell consulted lawyers and decided the best course of action was to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
“We feel that (the complaint) would be the most effective and least burdensome,” Satell said. “You’re never guaranteed anything in a court of law, but the Department of Education is looking at a very narrow issue of whether Duke’s response was sufficient.”
The allegation will be investigated by the department’s Office of Civil Rights, which deals with discrimination claims and issues involving Title IX, a law that keeps people from being denied access to educational programs that receive federal funding on the basis of sex.
The next steps in the complaint process will be basic fact-finding interviews with those involved, namely Duke administrators and Robinette and Satell. But the members of the College Republicans who originally were the subjects of harassment claims will likely not be involved in the complaints, Robinette said.
“While I would like that they investigate the College Republicans matter, the reality is they won’t have the chance to do that,” said Robinette, who is graduating in December. “And that’s not as important to me as this investigation.”
More important is the acknowledgement that Duke handled the whole situation poorly, he said.
“It’s part vindication, but another part of it is for future Duke students who want to come to them for help,” Satell said.
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