Pacific University on shaky ground after weeks of unrest
The account of a former Pacific University student who alleges she was sexually assaulted and experienced racial discrimination while attending college in Forest Grove has become a rallying point for students, alumni and faculty members.
A "collective" of members of the Pacific community started the "Pacific Doesn't Care" website last month, sharing a letter that 26-year-old Carrie Taveira posted on social media and outlining their own demands for action from the university administration.
In her Sept. 16 letter, Taveira chronicled her alleged sexual assault, a subsequent suicide attempt, and her disappointment in the school.
The website re-published the letter, naming Taveira as the author, five days later.
More than 1,000 students, alumni and university employees have signed onto the Pacific Doesn't Care "demand letter."
The "collective" behind the website remains anonymous, declining to speak with the Pamplin Media Group for this story or respond to questions about their membership, goals and relationship to Taveira.
Taveira said she doesn't know who is behind the website, and she said they re-published her letter without speaking to her first, although she isn't bothered by it. (The letter has since been taken down, although the website includes a brief summary of it.)
"I've been mostly overwhelmed and humbled," Taveira said. "I've really been taken aback with everybody's response and how willing they are to support me through this."
'adversity and suffering'
Taveira, in her initial letter, said that in 2016 she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance, and that the university's response to her allegations were "disappointing." She did not feel her case was taken seriously, even after she said her rapist also filmed her without her consent.
She continued at Pacific into fall 2018 before dropping out prior to graduation. Later, after returning home to New York and spending a couple of summer months overseas, she learned in fall 2019 that the university hired the former student Taveira said raped her. She was so upset that she drove cross-country back to Forest Grove and attempted suicide in front of his apartment building, she wrote.
She described being hospitalized, and later briefly institutionalized after being picked up by the police in Des Moines, Iowa, this past July.
"It's frustrating to acknowledge that almost everyone cares about mental health until someone starts to exhibit symptoms out of their control," Taveira wrote. "I know how uneasy it made everyone I knew, to watch me slowly lose my mind, and find any reason to distance themselves from that. I felt like such a burden, I still do most of the time."
While the alleged rape and illicit recordings are the centerpiece of her story, Taveira, who is of South Asian heritage, also describes other university shortcomings, including what she described as racial discrimination and harassment by faculty members whom she accuses of keeping her from graduating.
"I would have been OK with getting raped and not being allowed to report him, but when it became the reason I couldn't graduate, I felt like all that adversity and suffering was for nothing," Taveira wrote. "I knew I would not make it out alive if I stayed another semester. I expressed that so many times, I put it on paper and sent it to the Pacific administration. The members of the Pacific community that I spoke to didn't care about that, though, not enough to do anything other than tell me to be less sensitive, to grow a thicker skin."
In a statement emailed to Pacific community members, university President Lesley Hallick said the administration "categorically denies" the allegations. She defended the school's handling of Taveira's initial complaint, as well as the university's policies and procedures.
"It is simply not true that the university's faculty and staff denied her the right to report an assault, failed to investigate a report of assault, or acted with racial bias in this situation," Hallick wrote in a Sept. 25 email with the subject line "Recent Allegations." She continued, "Although this complaint reaches back several years, we know support was offered by our staff and faculty."
In turn, Hallick alleged that there were "very serious threats" made against university faculty and staff as recently as this past summer, when Taveira says she was institutionalized in Iowa.
"These threats, shared by law enforcement, prompted staff and faculty to move from their homes, for guards to be hired, and for increased police patrols around the university," Hallick wrote, adding that "we are not able to sit by while others are defamed and even endangered."
Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Hall acknowledged that there have been conversations between the department and Pacific University regarding threats to the school and members of the administration or faculty, but he said he's not at liberty to speak to specifics.
Des Moines police confirmed Taveira was taken into custody on a missing persons report after she allegedly expressed suicidal thoughts to her family, noting in a July 27 report that she was "known to be armed," but a spokesperson said they have records of her making threats.
Taveira denies making or having involvement in any threats against Pacific.
"Absolutely all of those accusations are untrue," Taveira said. "I've never threatened to harm anybody."
While she's been comforted by the response from the Pacific community, she said, she is frustrated with the university administration's response.
"There have been many positives from me coming forward with my story," Taveira said. "But I am wildly disappointed in the administration's response. I think their defensiveness and their denial speak poorly about them, and I think they could do better. But I've received hundreds of messages from current faculty, staff and students expressing that they stand in solidarity with me and that they believe me, and that they're here to support me."
The group behind the Pacific Doesn't Care website has accused the university of a history of mismanaging, ignoring and sometimes hiding cases of sexual assault and misconduct. In its demand letter, the group calls for change and accountability, along with the termination of Taveira's alleged attacker from his on-campus job.
Hallick said Sept. 25 that the man is "not a current employee of the university." He did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
The Pamplin Media Group is not naming the man because he was never charged with a crime.
As one might expect with more than 1,000 members of the Pacific community signing onto the demand letter, its impact has been felt on campus, which hosts well over 1,000 undergraduate students in a typical school year.
Even with most students engaged in remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been a couple of small demonstrations, and supporters of Taveira have on multiple occasions painted over the Forest Grove campus' "Spirit Bench" in support of the Pacific Doesn't Care movement. (The bench was twice repainted gray after initial incidents.)
Sebastian Herr, student and senior writer for the university's school newspaper, the Pacific Index, has followed the story from the onset. He said while the story itself is new to the scene, the discontent between the administration and student body is far from it.
"This is my fifth year here and the general feeling of the students towards the administration has always felt a bit resentful," Herr said. "I wouldn't say it's been this hostile, for this is definitely the worst, but it's always felt at odds when it comes to the administration and students."
Herr also differentiated between the administration and faculty, saying that — at least in his mind — the faculty leans a little in the students' direction.
"I don't think there's a universal divide between the faculty and administration, but I do sense one," he said. "If I had to explain it, I'd say in simple terms, if the administration were black and the students white, the faculty is probably a light gray."
The same day that Hallick sent out her "Recent Allegations" email response, the Index published a letter drafted by a group of faculty and staff members in support of the Pacific Doesn't Care movement.
"We will hold each other and others accountable to creating a culture of support," the letter — which avoids direct criticism of the university administration and does not mention either Taveira or Hallick by name — reads in part, adding, "We encourage you to use the university's reporting mechanisms and will provide you with any necessary support through the process."
A Pacific spokesperson, in an email response, declined to respond to questions from the Pamplin Media Group for this story, instead pointing to public statements released by the university.
To Herr, the faculty letter seems like a genuine attempt to empathize with students' experience, he said. But he believes the situation in general, with Taveira's allegations touching off a backlash against Pacific University, results from years of inaction on the part of the administration.
"I feel like this is a reflection of how young people feel in society today," Herr said. "In general, we feel there are all these deep systemic issues that are in direct conflict with what we've been promised. I feel like the messaging on how much they care about students or how much support is available, is in direct conflict with what we actually encounter."
Despite the war of words between the Pacific Doesn't Care collective and the university administration, many students and alumni have avoided taking sides.
Cydni Mullikin, a 2018 Pacific graduate from Hawaii, acknowledged the pain expressed by Taveira and others, but she said her personal experience at Pacific was very different.
"I feel sympathy for any student/alumni/faculty that have gone through circumstances that required assistance but never got it, but I cannot say that I or any of the individuals I know with negative experiences were unable to receive support from Pacific," Mullikin said. "Pacific stood by their word for me and many others when additional resources were necessary in order to have a memorable and positive undergraduate experience."
Pacific sophomore J.J. Buehler said he saw the website and read the demand letter, but he hadn't given it the time necessary to form an opinion either way.
There's been a lot of talk around campus regarding the situation, Buehler added, and if nothing else, he thinks the Pacific Doesn't Care collective has made its argument clearly.
"I believe the point gets across well," Buehler said. "I think the point of the website was to send a message to the administration at Pacific, and that worked."
As for Taveira, she wrote in her Sept. 16 letter that she has continued to battle suicidal thoughts since attempting to kill herself nearly a year ago. But she told the Pamplin Media Group that since writing her letter, seeing it re-published on the Pacific Doesn't Care website, and experiencing the supportive response from so many current and former students, she's making progress with her mental health.
"I was in a really dark place before I posted that letter," she said. "I felt really desperate and like I wasn't going to survive if I wasn't heard, but posting the letter has honestly just been so cathartic.
"I thought that what I had to share and express could possibly benefit other people and save a lot of people from experiencing the same things, and that was my main goal. But it also made me feel so much better, and it helped me process the situation. It's been overwhelming."
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