Fordham Announces Investigation into Dean Rodgers and RA Sexual Assault Training

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By Theresa Schliep

Note: This article is breaking and will be updated as more information comes to light. The article discusses sexual assault and includes videos regarding sexual assault on campuses.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 4:05 on Saturday, Aug. 26 for clarity regarding the events that occurred on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. 

The university announced Friday that it launched an investigation into comments made by Christopher Rodgers, dean of students at Rose Hill, during the Campus Assault and Relationship Education (CARE) and Bias segment of Resident Assistant (RA) training on Aug. 18. 

Fordham’s Department of Public Safety and the Title IX Coordinator, Anastasia Coleman, will be responsible for investigating the training and Rodgers comments, according to the email sent out by the university to the Fordham community on Friday afternoon.

In a statement published on Facebook this week, Rowan Hornbeck, FCRH ’18, an RA, said Rodgers upset some RAs after presenting two videos he said represented narratives from the left and right of the political spectrum.

At the training on Aug. 18, he showed a trailer for the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” according to multiple RAs present. Institutions of higher education in the United States fail to adequately address sexual assault on campus, according to the documentary. It depicted how Title IX can be used against these institutions in cases of sexual assault.

“Rodgers repeated that the video exemplified the ‘agenda’ of the political left,” said Hornbeck in her statement.

Subsequently, Rodgers showed a video from PragerU which argues that there is no evidence of a campus rape epidemic and no evidence that sexual violence is a cultural norm. This video exemplified what Rodgers said was the political right, according to Hornbeck. “The Hunting Ground” trailer has been included in past RA Sexual Assault training. The PragerU video was a new addition, according to Hornbeck.

Students verbally reacted and left the room in response to both videos, according to Hornbeck. Residential Life professional staff cancelled RA training for the day and continued sexual assault training on Thursday, Aug. 24 by Rodgers and Kimberly Russell, director of residential life.

Rodgers is the Deputy Title IX Coordinator and one of his responsibilities is to train RAs on how to handle sexual assault.

On Thursday, Rodgers apologized to RAs for upsetting them, according to Hornbeck. However, she said he failed to apologize for what he said.

“A lot of us raised concerns with the fact that we didn’t feel like he was apologizing for his behavior and was instead apologizing that we were upset,” said Hornbeck in an interview with The Fordham Ram.

On Saturday, Rodgers said he is unable to offer a statement to The Fordham Ram at this time. Nor did Bob Howe, director of communications for the university, offer a statement further than the email sent to the university when asked for comment Saturday.

Rodgers unnecessarily imparted politics into the issue of sexual assault during training, according to Hornbeck.

“A presentation from the Deputy Title IX Coordinator should not leave dozens of female students in tears,” said Hornbeck in her statement. “Contextualizing advocacy for victims as a political agenda is backwards.”

Some RAs also said the situation affected training and, consequently, their abilities to effectively handle situations involving sexual assault.

“I think Dean Rodgers handled the presentation poorly, especially given how contentious and tense this has been in the past,” said Peter Vergara, FCRH ’18, via an interview with The Fordham Ram. “He allowed politics to inhibit adequately preparing RAs, on an essential element of our job.”

Sabrina Spatz, GSB ’18, also an RA, said RA training needs to be reevaluated, and the situation surrounding Rodgers’ comments is indicative of inadequate RA training.

“I had several issues with the presentation but what was really frustrating was that the way he presented this issue distracted from us receiving training that we are not only required to have, but is also essential to offer the resources and support our residents need,” said Spatz in an interview with The Fordham Ram.

Vergara said RA training insufficiently prepared RAs to do their job, especially regarding sexual assault situations.

“It is important that Residential Life considers branching out to professional crisis managers to prepare us in addition to our internal presentations,” he said.

Hornbeck said Rodgers’ comments during training causes RAs to distrust him.

“It’s very indicative of the mindset with which he’s approaching cases of sexual assault,” said Hornbeck. “I don’t trust him to be sensitive and to take our criticisms into account.”

Hornbeck said she felt there was no accountability for the events that transpired during RA training.

“It didn’t really seem like we were getting any kind of response from them that would make any of us feel like there was any accountability,” said Hornbeck. “[There was] really no admission of wrongdoing or any kind of sense that he would be held accountable.”

Vergara and Spatz said their comments do not represent Residential Life or the opinion of other RAs.