THE DAILY ORANGE

‘INSURMOUNTABLE’

How Syracuse University handled a case of assault against a student abroad

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hen Page Garbee returned to her hotel after one of the worst nights of her life, she went into the bathroom and collapsed to the floor. From grief, from being overwhelmed, from pure exhaustion.

She then mustered the strength to shower before retreating to her bed, where she sobbed as she drifted off to sleep.

“I was a huge mess,” said Garbee, then a Syracuse University student studying in Poland with SU Abroad’s Central Europe program.

Previously that night, Oct. 18, 2014, a male SU student punched Garbee in the face at a bar in the city of Krakow, inflicting her with a black eye. The punch was thrown after she repeatedly denied the student’s sexual advances throughout the night as they moved from bar to bar, she said.

Now, as she fell asleep, the night was over, but it was just the start of months of distress for Garbee.

Though SU would later find the student guilty of the assault, what followed was a series of what some described as questionable decisions made by the university — decisions that would cause Garbee more suffering while doing little to punish the student, she said.

In some cases, the decisions may have violated SU’s own policies.

I just feel like, if you’re convicted of assaulting another student, the punishment should be severe.
Page Garbee

Garbee went public about the episode over the summer, writing a blog post about the incident and later agreeing to an interview with The Daily Orange.

Further reporting also revealed the male student was, on multiple occasions, celebrated by the university in the years after the incident. He remained in the Renée Crown University Honors Program and was prominently featured on the SU Abroad website — something that changed after a Daily Orange inquiry.

The Daily Orange generally does not name students accused of assault who have not been criminally charged. The student, an undergraduate at the time of the assault, was later admitted to SU’s School of Information Studies master’s program, where he is currently pursuing a degree.

The case and its aftermath provide a glimpse into how SU handles incidents of violence against women. But ultimately, that’s all it is: a glimpse. Examining it on a broader scale would require more transparency from SU than its current policies allow.

Garbee stressed that she doesn’t resent SU and said the university often handled the situation professionally. But she added that, at other times, SU’s decision-making “really bothered me.”

“I just feel like, if you’re convicted of assaulting another student, the punishment should be severe,” she said.

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ithin days of the assault, Garbee filed an incident report with SU. She said she chose not to report the crime to Polish authorities because of the language barrier and the country’s generally misogynistic culture.

One day not long after Garbee filed the report, the director of the program, Hana Cervinkova, pulled Garbee into her office to second-guess her filing the report, the latter said.

“Why don’t you just talk to him? Doesn’t everyone make mistakes? Think about whether you really need to file charges,” Garbee remembers being told by Cervinkova, paraphrasing the conversation.

Cervinkova could not be reached for comment on this story.

Another day in class not long after the assault, one of the other students in the program singled Garbee out in front of the group, she said, telling her that she only cared about herself.

As incidents like those repeated themselves, Garbee quickly realized she wanted to return to the United States. Of the 10 other students in the program, just one — the only to witness the punch — believed she had been assaulted.

“It felt insurmountable to be surrounded by that much negativity and disbelief,” Garbee said. “So as soon as I kind of figured that out, I wanted out.”

Garbee quickly found out, though, that leaving wouldn’t be a realistic option.

SU officials declined to comment on any aspects of the incident because they were unauthorized to discuss matters related to specific students. But Garbee said she was told by SU that if she were to return home, she would lose credits for the courses she was taking and thus the tens of thousands of dollars she was paying toward tuition.

It felt insurmountable to be surrounded by that much negativity and disbelief. So as soon as I kind of figured that out, I wanted out.
Page Garbee

With two weeks left in the semester, Garbee said SU reversed course and informed her she could leave without being penalized, but by that point it was too late, she said.

“It was frustrating that there was not an exception made earlier,” she said.

Forced to stay in Poland, day-to-day life was a struggle for Garbee. She felt secluded and ostracized, as the other students in the program continued to not believe her. She suffered frequent panic attacks. And she said she was diagnosed with both post-traumatic stress disorder and acute anxiety disorder.

Maybe most difficult, though, was living in the same apartment as the rest of the students in the program, including the student who was found to have assaulted her. Garbee filed a no-contact order, which SU granted, prohibiting the student from having any contact with her. That forced the student to move away from the apartment, but not before SU first asked Garbee to move and she refused, she said.

The student was ultimately found responsible for the assault through a University Conduct Board hearing. The board reached the decision in mid-November, according to documents Garbee shared with The Daily Orange.


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The student was permitted to stay in the program for the remainder of the semester, even though the SU Abroad website states that students studying abroad “must remain a student in good standing (academic, financial, and judicial) to participate in our programs.”

SU Abroad declined to comment on the specific incident, but marketing and communications manager Jenn Horvath said in an email that SU Abroad is notified when a student abroad violates the Code of Student Conduct.

She added that SU Abroad has the ability to suspend or terminate a student’s participation in the SU Abroad program when that happens.

“Or if SU Abroad believes that the student’s participation poses a danger to the student or others or threatens to impede orderly conduct of the SU Abroad programs,” Horvath said.

“They definitely had grounds for removing him and sending him home early and they chose not to,” Garbee added. “And I think that was detrimental, particularly in such a small program.”

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hen Garbee returned to SU for the spring 2015 semester — her last before she graduated — she still couldn’t escape the assault and its impact.

The panic attacks continued, and they didn’t stop until March of that semester. She also lost friends who didn’t believe her, including one who was a mutual friend of Garbee and the student who assaulted her.

Meanwhile, the student avoided severe repercussions, at least in the form of sanctions. He received disciplinary probation and community service, according to documents Garbee shared with The Daily Orange.

Those penalties are the minimum penalties for crimes of violence, according to the SU Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities’ website, which stipulates that such crimes can also be grounds for a suspension or indefinite suspension.

In an effort to learn whether the sanctions the student received were typical, The Daily Orange requested information on sanctions for all cases of violence against women at SU dating back to April 2014 — when SU’s current administration took over — in which the perpetrators have been found responsible. OSRR director Pamela Peter said SU is not legally authorized to share that data, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

SU’s Student Conduct System Handbook also claims the university holds information on sanctions confidential in such cases due to “applicable law,” which Peter said is a reference to FERPA.

That, however, is an incorrect application of FERPA, an expert said. The law was amended in the 1990s to permit universities to share sanctions for crimes of violence and sexual assault — when the perpetrator has been found guilty — with third parties, including the media. Specifically, the amendment allows universities to share the name of the perpetrator, the offense and the penalties.

Richard Peltz-Steele, a University of Massachusetts School of Law professor specializing in the freedom of information, confirmed that FERPA is not an excuse for withholding that information.

“FERPA is so grossly overused by universities,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”

An email to Peter explaining the FERPA amendment permitting universities to disclose such information went unanswered.


Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer


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ollowing the assault, the male student remained in and graduated as a member of SU’s Renée Crown Honors Program.

It was one of the ways SU recognized him in an official capacity even after he was found responsible for striking Garbee in the face.

The Honors Program never had the chance to consider removing the student’s honors status, because it was never made aware of the assault or him being found responsible. Kate Hanson, the deputy director of the Honors Program, said the program does not receive notification from the OSRR when one of its students is found guilty of a student conduct violation, regardless of the violation.

“I felt like he should have been stripped of things like his Honors status,” Garbee said. “You defied the definition of honor.”

In addition to the student remaining in the Honors Program, he was also listed, until a few weeks ago, on the SU Abroad website as a “global ambassador” for the Central Europe program.

Horvath, the marketing and communications manager for SU Abroad, said global ambassadors are there for interested students to ask questions about studying abroad.

“We encourage prospective SU Abroad students to contact recent alumni to get a feel for what student life is like at our centers and on our programs,” Horvath said.

Within days of The Daily Orange’s inquiry, the student was removed as a global ambassador.

But for up to 20 months after the assault, SU officials allowed the student’s profile to remain on the site, along with his advice for prospective students.

“I have no regrets,” he wrote. “… The thing about going abroad is that you just need to live. You need to expand your mind and find out who you are. A semester abroad is not the time to lay idle or to stay within your comfort zone. Every day you should challenge yourself as a person and try something new.”


Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer


Banner photo by Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer

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