Student says Georgia university did little to stop sexual harassment

12:56 p.m Friday, Sept. 29, 2017 Education
Clark Atlanta University doctoral student Tayler Mathews pauses as she speaks at her apartment home on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. She filed a lawsuit in August accusing the university of creating a sexually hostile environment for her because it failed to deal with her complaints that a male student was harassing her. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Clark Atlanta University doctoral student Tayler Mathews said she didn’t want to do it.

“I didn’t want to take it here,” she said of a civil rights lawsuit against the university she filed last month, saying it didn’t properly handle her sexual harassment complaints. “I really thought they would take care of this.”

In fact, Mathews says in court documents and an interview that several faculty members made a defamation claim against her after she filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.

She added: “It’s heartbreaking because I don’t feel like I have my university anymore.”

A Clark Atlanta spokeswoman declined comment because the litigation is ongoing. The university has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Mathews missed a two-year statute of limitations to make her legal complaint. Clark Atlanta also insists that it didn’t act with indifference to her harassment complaints.

“Ms. Mathews has not alleged that any deliberate indifference on the part of Clark Atlanta subjected her to further discrimination by her classmate,” Jonathan Poole, the attorney representing the university, wrote in his motion to dismiss.

Student sexual harassment complaints have increased in the past five years, after the federal government made changes aimed at improving enforcement, said Dan Schorr, a former prosecutor in New York with expertise in investigating sexual misconduct. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last week she was amending some of those guidelines.

Mathews contends several faculty members and administrators at CAU, where more than 75 percent of the students are women, understood little to nothing about federal guidelines to protect students from gender discrimination, in part of the law known as Title IX.

“There is definitely some confusion on some campuses on who to go to (for Title IX help),” Schorr said in general about such efforts.

Mathews, 28, from Illinois and studying political science, said the harassment began in late 2013. A male graduate student, she said, made lewd comments, such as she is “delicious.” Mathews said he purposely brushed up against her and took video of her in class, saying it’s difficult not to film her because she’s so attractive.

The student accused of the harassment is not being named in this article because no civil or criminal charges have been filed against him. The student is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Mathews also said in interviews that a male professor said she would not pass his exams solely on her looks and asked if she had ever been raped.

“It was a hostile educational environment from the start, and continues to be so,” Mathews said.

Mathews said she told her faculty adviser about the situation in December 2013. The harassment, she said, continued. Mathews filed a written complaint in November 2014.

Clark Atlanta investigated and found “insufficient evidence to substantiate the harassment charges” but issued a “no contact” order between Mathews and the male student, court documents show. Mathews said she learned about the university’s decision about four months later in a meeting with an administrator on another matter.

Mathews said the harassment slowed her progression toward her degree. She filed a federal civil rights complaint in May 2015 after a former department chairman, Kurt Young, suggested her status in the program should be reconsidered. The complaint is still under review, she said.

Mathews says some CAU faculty began a retaliatory campaign against her and others once she filed the complaint.

She claims Danielle Gray-Singh, who tried to help Mathews, was demoted from dean of CAU’s Arts and Sciences department to professor. Gray-Singh has also sued CAU, alleging in her sexual discrimination claim the demotion was based on her support of Mathews.

Mathews said the university’s funding for her tuition was drastically cut and she wasn’t notified about calls for papers on topics that related to her area of study, women and politics.

Mathews said she also defended herself in a disciplinary hearing over allegations that she made defamatory statements about faculty. Mathews said she was found not responsible for defamation.

She’s still working on her dissertation, conducting research at her Cobb County home, not on CAU’s campus, near downtown Atlanta.

“I’m still fighting and that’s what I plan to do,” she said.

The lawsuit says the college told a student not to hand out Christian pamphlets on campus.
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