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Rice maintains "happiest students" status by ousting unhappy students

By Olivia Hansen     11/28/12 6:00pm

 

I have been trying to write this for a long time, but after reading Angie Epifano's article in The Amherst Student, "An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College," (Oct. 17, 2012) I felt the similarities between our situations reinforced the fact that certain flaws in university administrations need to be discussed. 

I attended Rice from August 2010 to September 2011 and again from January 2012 to March 2012. From September 2010 to September 2011, I was physically, verbally and sexually abused by a boyfriend I had met during my first few days as a student at Rice. 



In September 2011, my abuse got out of hand. Traumatized, I finally began to talk to the resident associates. With their encouragement (and a little bit of force), I reported him to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. Eventually, he was suspended from Rice University for the remainder of the academic year. 

He lost his place on his athletic team, and his teammates hated me for it. Nobody knew what was going on. He called me a liar, and I had been so isolated for the past year that people did not know me at Rice except as his girlfriend. I was lonely and broken, constantly wondering whether I had made the right choice. I felt like I had betrayed my best friend. Nothing felt fair. Other students were blissfully ignorant and enjoying college, but for me, my undergraduate experience was already the worst time of my life. Assistant Dean of Student Judicial Programs Donald Ostdiek recommended I take a medical leave of absence from Rice so I could recover. 

That fall, I went home and slowly began to heal. I filed for a protective order, was seeing a psychologist and had a steady job. I petitioned Rice for readmission for the Spring 2012 semester and was accepted due to my "successful recovery" during my time at home. 

I returned to Rice in January 2012 and began receiving harassing emails from my ex's friends. I took the emails to the Rice University Police Department, but they said nothing could be done. 

On March 15, my ex parked his truck directly across the street from Duncan College. When I confirmed it was his truck, I called RUPD, sobbing and in shock. Two officers met me back at Duncan. They had the truck towed but told me there was nothing more they could do. 

I asked RUPD whether I would be able to press charges because he had violated my protective order by coming that close to where I live. The officer told me they could not do anything because he had not hurt me "yet." He also said I should not have been across the street because I could only be protected while I was on campus. It made me think - could I no longer leave campus? Was I not able to go out to dinner with friends or go shopping at the mall? And even though he had hurt me for a year, would they not do anything if he came near me unless he hurt me again first? I was extremely frustrated; they were not taking me seriously. 

On March 22, I was asked to go to the Rice Counseling Center to meet a psychologist I had never seen before. She asked how I was doing, and I told her I was a little frustrated and stressed out because of my situation. She responded by saying that she thought I should be withdrawn from Rice. I was completely taken aback. The psychologist had me escorted to the Student Health Center, where I was asked to strip down to my underwear. A doctor and a nurse searched my body for any self-inflicted injuries. Every bruise was scrutinized. I told them I am just a clumsy person, but they did not seem to believe me. 

I was asked to meet with Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson that afternoon. My academics were not in question; my grades were all excellent. The dean simply said it was Rice's observation that I was not healthy enough to remain on campus. There was no room for discussion. When I asked for examples, arguing that my depression was under control until the "truck incident," he told me he could not discuss specifics. He signed the papers for my forced withdrawal and dismissed me. I walked straight out of the building and sat on the ground outside. The Duncan master came to sit next to me. Still crying, I told him it was not fair. He told me he wanted me to come back next fall. He told me I was a role model for his daughter and for other women at Rice. But he did not change anything. 

They gave me two hours notice to move all of my things out of my room. I turned in my key at the designated time, but I still had not packed everything. My roommate helped me move the rest of my stuff, but a head resident fellow saw us and threatened to call the police. I was supervised as I moved the rest of my things out. My roommate was shocked; she saw me every day and did not think I was unstable. Nobody had asked her whether I should be withdrawn from school. The rest of my friends had the same shocked reaction. 

Rice did not refund any of my tuition. 

Later that spring, I received the Duncan Edelweiss Award. It was an award for my "outstanding service to the community." I laughed when I opened that package. 

They wanted me to return for the Fall 2012 semester, but I could not go back to Rice after how I was treated. Returning in Spring 2012 had taken a lot of hard work. They took away everything I had built up during my spring semester: my academics, my leadership positions and my friends. As a freshman, I had assumed I would go to Rice for four years and graduate. However, my life has not gone as planned. 

I talked to some other people at Rice about what had happened to me. One man told me he was forced to withdraw for one year for depression. Other women told me about their experiences with assault on campus. The perpetrators were rarely punished. Victim-blaming seemed to be a common theme. 

I was lucky to get out of my abusive relationship, but the way the Rice administration dealt with my situation was unhelpful and detrimental. I have a case number associated with my assaults, but it is not listed on Rice's crime log. I was treated like something to be ashamed of. Those on the administration that had supported and advised me through ending my abusive relationship were people I trusted, but they were the ones who seemed to turn on me this spring. 

Rice University is ranked nationally for having the "happiest students" and "best quality of life," but is this actually true? Or does Rice have those titles only because the administration asks any unhappy students to leave? 

I am immensely disappointed in the way Rice handled my situation, and I am concerned for anyone who may have a similar experience in the future. I withdrew from Rice twice. Both times, the major response I received from the administration was that Rice could not support me. I was too much of a burden. 

Mental health issues are becoming increasingly common on college campuses. It is concerning to me that Rice does not have sufficient resources to support students. During my time as a student, I found that the Rice Counseling Center was not helpful, and I know many other students who feel the same way. As an abuse survivor, I have also realized that Rice does not have enough resources for victims of assault, abuse and stalking. I would like to see this changed. Rice is a truly wonderful university, but without the proper support for students with mental health issues, it has not yet earned its title for best quality of life. 

Olivia Hansen matriculated into Duncan College in 2010. 



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