Students not in violation of university conduct code

Student conduct proceedings at Washington State University have determined that two students, Alex Kirk and Robbie Cowgill, accused of harassment, did not violate university conduct provisions. Conduct officers concluded that, although the accused students may have engaged in adolescent behavior, there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of harassment.

According to WSU Vice President for Student Affairs Charlene Jaeger, WSU’s Code of Student Conduct defines harassment as conduct that is “sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to threaten an individual or limit the individual’s ability to work, study or participate in the activities of the university.” Based upon the information available to the student conduct officers, the actions did not reach that level.

Findings reached through the student conduct process are confidential, protected by federal student privacy laws. Kirk and Cowgill chose to sign a waiver of their confidentiality rights to allow the results of the conduct proceedings to be released. They were notified of the results of the inquiry Tuesday (March 1) evening.

According to the student conduct staff investigation, the accused students passed by the Multicultural Student Center in the Compton Union Building each day on their way to dinner. They admitted that they had engaged in attention-seeking behavior while passing by the center, making noises or knocking on the window.

They expressed surprise to learn that anyone might have regarded their antics as harassing. One of the students acknowledged doing a dance in front of the center on one occasion, which he and his friends describe as the dance from the movie “Dumb and Dumber.” However, the complainant and at least one other witness perceived this same dance as a racially motivated “minstrel” dance.

The student conduct officers concluded that the behavior at issue, although repeated, did not rise to the level of harassment and was not racially motivated. The investigation also found that no one had confronted the students, asked them to cease their activities or told them the activities were unwelcome. The accused students said they frequently walked past the center and waved, did not feel that their interactions were unwelcome, and in fact felt that some in the center smiled and waved back. When informed of the complaint, they were apologetic and immediately ceased their activities.

Conduct officers note that both students said they have learned from their experience. Both students have expressed regret that their actions were perceived as offensive or as racial harassment and that the complaining student was offended by their actions.

Jaeger said, “This incident serves as a good teaching experience for all involved and may help raise awareness of how our behavior affects others. These students may have been in the same place at the same time but they have radically different views of what took place, what was intended, and what each believed they saw. Each of them has experienced great anguish as they have shared what they believe is true. These students all deserve our full support and comfort as they move forward in dealing with a significant event in their lives. “

Student conduct officers utilized the university’s administrative hearing process to complete the investigation. They attempted to interview the witness who identified Kirk and Cowgill to police, and other individuals who had been identified as possible witnesses to the activities, though not all were willing to participate in the process. They also considered statements that had been provided to the police, interviewed the accused students and had an initial meeting with the student who filed the complaint. They were unable to complete a follow-up interview with her despite several attempts to do so. Students who file a complaint may choose not to participate further in the process.

News of the original complaint touched off a student demonstration on campus Feb. 23. Demonstrators presented a list of demands at the president’s office. Among those demands was a request for a meeting with WSU President V. Lane Rawlins, which is in the process of being arranged.