Roe v. Purdue sparks outrage

MeToo Purdue hosted a protest on Sept. 30 to call for the resignation of two university administrators. Photo courtesy of WFYI.


Purdue University’s campus is in outrage since a recent court case brought to light a student who was expelled for allegedly falsely reporting sexual assault in 2017. Students from several universities, including Butler, are standing with Purdue students in calling for the removal of the Purdue administrators who handled the case.

The case reports that a 19-year-old Purdue student, given the pseudonym Nancy Roe in the lawsuit, was given “18 drinks worth of wine and beer” on Apr. 17, 2017 at Acacia fraternity house. 

A pledge from the house, named Student B in documents, served Roe some of those drinks throughout the night, and then walked Roe back to her room where he then allegedly sexually assaulted her. Student B created an audio recording during this time because “he knew she would later claim rape.” 

Roe filed a sexual assault report later that week. Katie Sermersheim, associate vice provost and dean of students, and Alysa Rollock, vice president for ethics and compliance, led the investigation into Roe’s claim. 

Sermersheim and Rollock found Student B innocent of committing sexual assault, but found him guilty of sexual exploitation for recording Roe without her consent. His punishment was to write a 10-page essay on consent and sexual exploitation.

Roe was initially expelled for allegedly false reporting. The expulsion was later changed to a two-year suspension after an appeal to the university. Roe submitted a rape kit as well as an estimation of her blood alcohol content of that night, 0.408, to Purdue University during the investigation. During the trial, Sermersheim admitted that she did not look at the medical records Roe submitted, or considered the effects that the amount of alcohol Roe consumed would have on someone her size.

On Sept. 23, a jury ruled in favor of Roe and awarded her $10,000. After the hearing, Purdue made a statement saying that they will not be altering any of their Title IX policies.

Lauren Stubbs, a sophomore history and political science double major, believes this issue has effects that go beyond Purdue’s campus.

“I think [Student B’s punishment] reflects a bigger issue in society whereas the woman’s education is seen not as important compared to the male’s education,” Stubbs said. “[He got a] slap on the wrist.”

Purdue University’s Title IX office holds a false statement policy. The policy states “Any person who, in bad faith, makes a false statement or produces false information in connection with the initiation or resolution of a Formal Complaint … may be subject to appropriate discipline.” 

Kiara Somerville, a junior software engineering and economics double major, does not agree with Purdue’s false statement policy.

“I understand [the policy] in a sense of [that] they want to make sure they’re only getting proper statements,” Somerville said. “But I don’t necessarily think that punishment, especially like expulsion … is the proper decision to make in that situation.”

Butler University’s Title IX office holds a false statement policy as well. The policy states “All witnesses and parties are expected to provide true and accurate information. Should a witness or party provide false information, they may be subject to disciplinary action.” 

Some students at Purdue have been outraged since hearing about the lawsuit. Elle Pavlopoulos, a sophomore industrial engineering major at Purdue, felt frustrated when she learned about the case. 

“I was mad and confused,” Pavlopoulos said. “It almost hurts more coming from women saying that [Roe] was being untruthful … It sounds like [Sermersheim and Rollock] are sticking with what they said, and they think what they did was right, and I don’t agree with that. I know a lot of people on this campus don’t either.” 

The case has gained traction recently due to reports of the administrators’ actions before and during the case and her negligence towards Roe’s report. A petition to remove Sermersheim and Rollock from their positions was posted by Ted Hardesty, a Purdue senior and West Lafayette City Counselor. The petition has reached almost 12,000 signatures. In a post on Instagram, Hardesty wrote “[Sermersheim] smiled. When admitting that she didn’t give a rape victim due process before expelling her, she smiled.” 

On Sept. 30, a group called MeToo Purdue held a protest to call for the removal of the two faculty members. The group claims that Sermersheim and Rollock are not advocates for sexual assault victims and have created a hostile environment for future victims with how they handled Roe’s case.

MeToo Purdue is scheduled to hold another protest at Purdue on Oct. 17.

Purdue remains supportive of the two administrators, issuing a statement to The Purdue Exponent saying, “Purdue stands fully in support of Dr. Sermersheim and Ms. Rollock for their professionalism, diligence, integrity, and commitment to fairness in this and all such matters.”


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