Frequently Asked Questions

Please click through the table of contents for easy access.

Who We Are

Our Goals and Our Message

The Facts


 

Who We Are

 

» Is your organization affiliated with Christendom College?

CASC is not formally affiliated with Christendom College; however all of our members are Christendom alumni. The group was founded in January 2018 in direct response to the recent information which has come to light regarding sexual assault case mishandling at Christendom. We have now had multiple meetings — and are currently in an open dialogue — with the Christendom administration and intend to continue to collaborate with the college in order to ensure a safe and supportive environment for current and future students. We do not plan to become fully affiliated with the college administratively as this would defeat the goal of providing external accountability.

» Is CASC a Catholic organization?

Yes. While we do not require members to be practicing Catholics, all of our members are Christendom alumni who are well versed in Church doctrine and teaching, our organizational mission is motivated from a desire to see a deeply Catholic approach to addressing the issue of sexual violence and supporting survivors of sexual trauma, and our official policies and resources will always conform fully with Church teachings as received via the infallible authority of the Magisterium.

» Are you all disgruntled alumni? You seem to have an axe to grind. Aren’t you afraid that what you’re doing could destroy Christendom?

While all of the members of CASC are Christendom alumni, each of us has had our own individual experiences during our time attending the school and we all share a deep love for our alma mater. Some of us are survivors of assault, whether during our time at Christendom or elsewhere; others have not themselves experienced this particular trauma but nonetheless wish to offer support to those who have been victimized in this way.

Most of us have many fond memories of our time at Christendom and deeply value the friendships we formed with the professors, staff and our fellow students during our studies and afterwards. All of us believe strongly that the best way to solve an issue like this is to bring it into the light and take the necessary actions to allow for healing and improvement to occur. We believe that Christendom as an institution is strong enough to come through this experience better than ever.

» Are you all feminists? Are you all liberals?

The membership of CASC is diverse politically, although we share a common belief in the dignity of the human person and we believe that all people (men and women alike) deserve to be treated with respect and charity.

» Do you provide legal or medical advice?

We speak as survivors and advocates and speak from experience. We can refer people to legal or medical resources for them to receive professional advice.

Our Goals and Our Message

» What do you want?

CASC has 3 stated goals:

  • For Christendom College to comply with Title IX guidelines on how to respond to campus sexual assault;
  • For Dr. Timothy O’Donnell to voluntarily step down from his position as college president, in light of the massive failure in leadership demonstrated by the victims’ stories; and
  • For our organization to serve as a resource for past victims and current and future students who are in need of support either in preventing, or coping with the aftermath of, sexual assault.

You can view our full explanation of our goals here.

» Have you tried to discuss this privately with Dr. O’Donnell or the administration?

Members of our organization, as well as some of the victims, have met with some members of the Christendom administration. Dr. O’Donnell has not yet offered to meet with us or with the victims (as far as we are aware).

Our discussions with college administrators have been productive, and they have expressed a desire to work with us towards creating a safer environment for current and future students.

» Are you trying to get Dr. O’Donnell fired?

We believe that it would be best for Dr. O’Donnell to step down from his role as president, in recognition of the grave failure of leadership demonstrated in these cases. We hold that this would ideally be a voluntary decision on Dr. O’Donnell’s part, and we would have no objection to him remaining on as a member of the faculty or in some other capacity.

» Why do you want Dr. O’Donnell to resign? This isn’t his fault!

One of our advisory members has written an excellent explanation on Twitter – you can read the full text here.

In short, when there is a grave failure over the course of many years, the question of who bears responsibility comes down to the question of who serves as leader. As US Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover said, “Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.”

It was Dr. O’Donnell’s responsibility to ensure that the students under his care were supported and protected to the best of his ability. Failing to put appropriate procedures in place, to hire appropriately trained and vetted staff members, and to address these reports as they were made over the course of his entire tenure as president (25 years) is a grave failure in leadership. It makes no sense for the same person who created a flawed system to oversee the reform of that system.

We ask Dr. O’Donnell to step down in order that someone new can oversee a renewal of the current system, and to make it clear both internally to the Christendom community and externally to the world more broadly how seriously Christendom takes this issue. Otherwise, there is no reason to believe that anything will change. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Lk 12:48)

» Shouldn’t Dr. O’Donnell stay because Dr. Carroll chose him personally? Who would replace him?

A college presidency is not typically a system whereby each president personally chooses his successor. Of course under normal circumstances, the wishes of Dr. Carroll should hold great weight, since it is through his vision that the college was established. But in a situation where a leader has failed to fulfill his duties appropriately, it is only right that he should step aside and allow others to address a reform of the system which failed.

In terms of who would replace him, this is a decision which would typically be made through a comprehensive executive search process overseen by the college’s Board of Directors. We have every reason to believe that they would be well equipped to make such a selection.

» Christendom’s policies on sexual assault (and student life staff) have changed since Adele’s story happened – what more do you want?

While Christendom has more recently implemented a sexual assault policy in 2013, the current policy still fails to approach what Donna Bethell, Chair of the Board, has referred to as the “regulatory minimum requirements” of Title IX. It also does not require any external accountability for the appropriate application of these policies and procedures.

We are asking for full compliance with these minimum requirements, as well as some form of external accountability, whether through a regularly undertaken external audit process or voluntarily becoming legally bound by the guidelines of Title IX.

» Isn’t Title IX problematic for Christendom to implement? Won’t it contradict their Catholic identity?

There is nothing currently required of schools under Title IX which would contradict Catholic beliefs, teachings, or morality. Should there be in future, it is possible to request a religious exemption for any aspects of these laws which may be in conflict with Church teaching. Christendom would also be able to formally end their legal obligation in such an eventuality, simply by ensuring that they do not accept any federal funds going forward.

» Why should Christendom adopt Title IX if they don’t accept government funding like those other schools?

Title IX provides clear guidelines, policies and procedures based in best practices for handling these types of situations. Almost every other Catholic college and university in the US is already bound by these guidelines (including schools with a similar Catholic identity to Christendom like Thomas Aquinas College, which accepts federal student aid but not other government funding).

By adopting these guidelines, Christendom would be allowing for external accountability and ensuring that they are protected against the risk of this type of failure occurring again.

» Are you suggesting that Christendom should add sex education to their curriculum? That doesn’t seem appropriate.

We are not advocating for any kind of sex education program to be added to Christendom’s curriculum. However, we do encourage mandatory consent education, as appropriate, for both students and staff members, in line with broader Theology of the Body teachings.

Where sex education primarily focuses on the biological aspect of human sexuality, Catholic consent education focuses on ensuring that individuals are treating each other with respect for their human dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

» You say that you want to offer resources to current and future students, but it sounds like all your goals are about getting Dr. O’Donnell to step down and making the college comply with Title IX. How do you intend to support victims and students?

CASC runs and moderates a support group for survivors of sexual violence and harassment that is completely private and discrete as a primary method for victims and survivors to help one another heal and express themselves in a safe environment. In addition to our growing database of state resources, books, and mobile apps for self-care & therapy, we are currently working with a local sexual assault advocacy organization, The Laurel Center. The Laurel Center provides counseling, hospital support, and legal advice for victims of sexual assault. All its services are free and confidential. We are hoping to partner with them to bring some of these services close to campus where students can access them.

If you are a survivor interested in our support group, please reach out to Adele for more information.

» Why aren’t you going after the Front Royal Police department, or the National Park Service?

The principle of subsidiarity encourages us to focus our efforts on effecting change at the most local level possible, and the least centralized. While not all of us are Front Royal residents, all of us are Christendom alumni. It is also simpler for a college to update their policies than for the town, state, and/or federal criminal justice system to be reformed in its approach to sexual assault cases. Additionally, we believe that Christendom can and should set the example of how to respond to these types of cases, rather than relying on outside government agencies to do that for them.

» Won’t it be too expensive for the college to meet your demands?

Many of the Title IX requirements are related to setting up systems for reporting and disciplinary procedures, ensuring awareness of available resources, and training staff and students appropriately in order to create a safe environment for victims and help prevent these situations from happening in the first place. The expense for this might be larger upfront but on an ongoing basis should be relatively low.

It would also involve bringing on 1-2 additional staff members, with an average salary around $50,000 each. Considering that Dr. O’Donnell’s 2015 salary was $329,534, we know that the college has the resources to offer competitive compensation for key staff members.

Additionally, Christendom is lucky enough to have a large donor base who are very generous to the College, as we have seen from the tremendous success of the recent Capital Giving Campaign, which is currently at 90% of its $40 million fundraising goal.

» What about Christian forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not mutually exclusive with addressing a problem which is still ongoing, nor with asking for justice and reparations for those who have been injured in the past.

In fact, it would be an act against charity to ignore a situation like this and to allow it to continue, rather than addressing it and encouraging those involved to make amends and change the system going forward. Sometimes, charity includes the act of fraternal correction, and when private correction is insufficient, the case may need to be brought to more public attention.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Mt 18:15-17)

» What about Christendom’s reputation? Isn’t this going to hurt the opportunities of students who are there?

Jesus said, “For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light” (Lk 8:17) and “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:31)

True reform does not come about by avoiding the truth, but rather by acknowledging where failure has occurred and taking steps to address whatever systemic factors may have contributed to that failure. We want Christendom to be known as a school which takes sexual violence seriously, and shines by example as a place with excellent training and systems in place to ensure that current and future students have a safe, supportive academic environment for their studies. If we’re doing this the right way, we won’t have to worry about reputation.

We have heard some people express concern that the current scandal may damage opportunities for current students and recent graduates. If Christendom becomes known as a school where students are taught that there are no consequences for their actions, where rape is not considered to be a big deal, where victim-blaming and rape apology are typical responses among its graduates, then there is no avoiding the possibility that this may cause damage to reputation of the school–and even its alumni. But our goal is that this will not be what Christendom is known for. Our hope is that Christendom will become known as an institution which, when faced with a grave crisis, stood by the victims and did everything in its power to address the issue comprehensively, quickly and appropriately.

» Why do you use the term “rape apologist” for people who just don’t have all the facts to make a judgment in this delicate situation?

Rape apology is an umbrella term for any arguments suggesting that rape is infrequent, misreported, over-reported, not that big a deal, or excusable in some circumstances, such as marital rape, corrective rape or if the victim was “provocatively dressed”.

When we seek to rationalize an inadequate response to a report of rape by looking for excuses for why it wasn’t such a big deal, we are defending the system against the victim.

The fact is, while we may need additional information to make a judgment in an individual’s case, we don’t need additional information to know that when 19 women reported sexual harassment or assault over a period of 25 years, it should not have taken 20 years to implement a sexual assault policy. To argue otherwise is to make excuses, and to defend those who failed to protect and support these women, by seeking to discredit those women’s traumatic experiences. And that is — by definition — what “rape apology” is. The only way that it would be possible that the college did not fail gravely in this regard would be if all of these 19 women are lying about what happened when they sought support.

It is a similar situation as C. S. Lewis’s Trilemma as stated in Mere Christianity: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.”

» What do you mean by “rape culture”? Christendom doesn’t have a “rape culture”. Rape culture means things like coed dorms, wild parties, and a widespread acceptance of rampant promiscuity.

It is very likely that rape is more rare at Christendom than at many other schools. Most Christendom students strive to live a life of virtue and respect one another. However, the term “rape culture” refers to any environment in which prevailing social attitudes lead to a normalization of rape, sexual assault and abuse. This can include environments where promiscuity and other risky behavior is normalized, premarital virginity is devalued and a double standard is held around the sexual behavior of men and women, whereby men are encouraged to be sexually aggressive but sexually active women are seen as damaged goods or otherwise undesirable. And this can also include environments which devalue women’s personal agency and ability to consent (or not), and which encourage a view of sexuality which equates sexual violence with other consensual acts outside of what is considered licit sexual behavior (ie., within marriage).

A school environment can develop into a rape culture when students are so ignorant of their own rights that they do not know that they have been raped, or when rape is seen by those who hear about it as “partly the victim’s fault,” when faculty members use the example of a false rape accusation being made in response to regret over a consensual sexual encounter as a likely scenario which students could face, or when dress code enforcement patterns imply that it is primarily the responsibility of a woman to avoid “tempting” her fellow students to lust rather than encouraging mutual respect of one another’s consent to engage in physical activities.

Rape culture also includes an institutionalized disrespect for women’s reliability and intellect, assuming that they are less rational, more prone to lie, or likely to be too hysterical to judge what has happened to them; and for men’s personal agency in dismissing a man’s ability to exercise self control when sexually aroused. Christendom may shine by comparison with some other schools, but our goal is to strive toward excellence. As in many other places, rape culture needs to be eliminated through better education and more charity toward victims.

» Why do you talk so much about consent? Isn’t marriage the only place where consent should matter?

Since rape is not just a sin but a crime as well, and since it often leaves long-term psychological wounds on the victim, it cannot be treated as just another aspect of chastity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act.” (CCC 2356)

Christendom students should know to stay abstinent until marriage, but they should also know that rape is a matter for school officials and law enforcement, not just the confessional.

Additionally, victims who may not have a clear understanding of the meaning of “consent” may feel responsible for their own trauma despite not having consented. It is important to understand that in order for an act to be considered “consensual”, such consent must be freely given, with no form of coercion or false pretenses used to obtain such consent, that consent can be revoked at any time, and that the act of refusing or revoking consent can be verbal or non verbal.

» Why can’t I say that the victim is partly to blame? It isn’t “victim-blaming”, it’s just stating facts. Didn’t all of these girls break the rules?

While every human being may sometimes make imprudent decisions, go to dangerous places, get drunk, etc., this is never an excuse for violence or any other crime to be committed against them. Victims of assault are experiencing the aftermath of a traumatic violation of their physical body and their very sense of self. They may question all the choices which led up to this experience, but they are not to blame for the act of violence which was perpetrated against them, and to claim otherwise is to claim that somehow they are complicit in their own violation.

People who make an imprudent choice still have a right to human dignity and bodily safety that they have not signed away. We do not want to create an environment where individuals feel that they deserved to be “punished” for an imprudent decision with an act of violence being committed against them. It is natural that we want to understand if there are certain choices which might put a person at greater risk of rape, so that we and our children and loved ones can do our best to stay safe. But the unfortunate truth is, while we can certainly take preventative measures to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, we simply cannot guarantee safety, and it is vital to ensure that if something bad happens, we do not compound that suffering with blame. When we victim-blame, we imply that we care more about ensuring that this never happens to us than we care about helping the traumatized person who has already experienced it.

Also, in many of these cases which occurred while the victim was attending Christendom, no rules were broken by the victim; but these women trusted men whom they were encouraged to trust, because they were “good Christendom men”. At the end of the day, there is no “type” of guy who commits rape, and a good man of any “type” would never pressure a woman to do anything which made her uncomfortable, regardless of whether she was intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated. The instinct of a man who respects and cares for women would be to take care of her if she is in a compromising position, not to attack her. To state that men have no control over their impulses is just as damaging to the respect for human dignity and free will as to state that women who make an error of judgment “deserve” to be assaulted or brought it on themselves. A woman should be able to trust that a man whom she loves, whom she is in a relationship with, whom her friends and family like and respect, whom she cares about at a friend, or whom she is interacting with in any context, will treat her with the respect she deserves as a child of God and a human person with dignity and free will.

The Facts

» Do you share survivor stories without that person’s consent?

We have never shared a survivor’s story without his or her consent, nor would we ever do so. A survivor has the right to choose when–and if–they wish to share their story, whom whom that story is shared, and how much of that story is given. Our role is to help survivors be heard if they do decide to speak out.

» How many victims have come forward? Wasn’t it just one person?

The number of victims whose stories we have heard continues to grow. At last count, we know of 19 incidents of which the college had some knowledge, which took place between 1993 and 2016. This number only includes incidents which the college administration was aware of and mishandled, and which we have verified in terms of timeline, etc. It is not an exhaustive compilation of all incidents.

» If you know who did these things, why aren’t you naming the rapists? Are you afraid of getting sued? Doesn’t that prove that you don’t have enough evidence to know what really happened?

Our first responsibility is to the safety of the victims, and therefore we do not share details of victims’ stories unless the victim herself chooses to do so. There are a variety of reasons why a victim may not wish to name her attacker; for instance, she may fear he will take violent revenge. Our decision not to name accused perpetrators is unrelated to lack of evidence or a concern about litigation.

» Unless we have a timeline of every case and unless the college and accused rapists are able to defend themselves, we can’t make a definitive judgement on whether or not these situations were mishandled. Why do you think you can?

We do know of some additional details which are not public knowledge. But even based on the information which is publicly available, it is very clear that there was a pattern of mishandling for at least 25 years. There were multiple incidents during that time, and these victims were not given appropriate support, nor was a policy instituted until 20 years later than the first of these reports, despite the fact that best practice for how to handle these types of cases was legally required of most colleges during that entire time period.

Dr. O’Donnell himself acknowledged this failure when he stated “We have failed some of our students. …To those students who have been harmed, I am deeply sorry. We will do better.”

» 19 incidents in 25 years is still significantly less percentage-wise than at most colleges. Isn’t that a good thing? Why attack Christendom when rape is worse at other places?

The issue here is not about the number of incidents, or whether the college could have prevented any of these from occurring to begin with. The issue is that these 19+ women did not receive the support from the college which legally they would have been entitled to anywhere else. They and their families have suffered with the aftermath of this trauma, some for over 20 years. And unlike other schools, which are legally required to report on the number of cases they handled each year, Christendom has never acknowledged that this is something which can happen on their campus. So students are not given appropriate preventative information or resources for what to do if it does happen to them.

The reason we are focusing on Christendom right now rather than other colleges is because we are Christendom alumni and we believe that change, like charity, begins at home. Christendom shouldn’t be engaging in the logical fallacy of whataboutism to justify a failure on the part of its leadership. Christendom should be standing as an example of best practice for how to handle this type of case. That is the change we are working to effect.

» What could the college have done differently? How do you even know that they didn’t do things they should have done? Isn’t this type of judgement unfair to the college? They legally can’t defend themselves because of confidentiality.

If the college had followed Title IX guidelines, like virtually every other US college does, they would have offered victims support with reporting, access to counseling, standardized disciplinary procedures (ensuring a fair hearing for both victim and accused), academic accommodation if needed, and they would be sharing crime report statistics on an annual basis so that prospective students have all the facts before choosing to attend.

Legally the college has no obligation to confidentiality – even under FERPA (which they are not legally bound by if they do not accept federal funds) the confidentiality exists primarily to protect the identities of victim and accused. Out of respect for confidentiality (even if not legally bound by it) the college may not be able to comment in detail on disciplinary action involving an accused student, but they could absolutely detail what steps they took to support a victim (assuming she was willing for them to disclose such information), what general procedures and staff training was in place which would have been followed, etc.

They have also admitted that they did mishandle these cases as a matter of public record, so they are not attempting to offer a defense on that point.

» Aren’t you asking the college to basically arbitrate a he said/she said situation? That doesn’t seem reasonable. What about false accusations? And if these things happened off campus, what is the college supposed to do about it?

The “preponderance of evidence” standard laid out by Title IX is the same standard of evidence which the Church requires for clergy sex abuse cases. This is because in both cases, the disciplinary procedure in question is within a private institution rather than a legal proceeding, and the duty of the school is to protect its students rather than to prosecute legal justice against offenders. So if there is a risk to students, it is perfectly reasonable for the school to make that judgement and proceed with disciplinary action accordingly. This is unrelated to whether the incident occurred off campus, as we know the college does take disciplinary measures against students for other infractions committed off campus.

False accusations are statistically very rare, and the disciplinary procedures required by Title IX would in fact offer an extra layer of protection in such an instance. Title IX protects the accused as well as the victim in every case. The accused has the right to know what is in the case file, to bring witnesses, and to appeal any decision that is made. In cases where schools have expelled students without appeal, or not allowed an accused student to know the charges against him, these schools were out of compliance with Title IX and the expelled student can make a Title IX complaint against the school.

» Didn’t this happen a long time ago? Why does it matter now?

This is not a single incident, but rather a pattern of ignoring and mishandling sexual assault reports over a period of multiple decades. The earliest report that we know of was made in 1993, and we have heard stories of at least 19 women whose cases were mishandled, some as recently as 2016. We need to recognize that this is an ongoing problem and one which needs to be addressed as such.

» How long has the administration known this was a problem?

The earliest report of sexual harassment/violence that has come to our attention was made in 1993. The school did not implement a policy regarding sexual harassment, assault, or rape until 2013.

» Isn’t the administration just caught off guard because they never could have imagined it would happen at Christendom? Christendom is a young college, relatively speaking. Surely they couldn’t be expected to figure everything out right away.

This is not a new issue, either for the college or for American society in general. The Clery Act’s Victims of Sexual Assault Bill of Rights, which states that sexual assault victims have a right to receive support in reporting to police, counseling access, academic accommodations, and disciplinary procedures, as well as requiring schools to report publicly on sexual crime report statistics annually, has been in place since 1992, the first year that Timothy O’Donnell served as president of the college. And we know of incidents which occurred as early as 1993.

» Why didn’t they report it to the police and leave the college out of it? Isn’t this a legal issue? Why should the college get involved?

While it is important to report to the police if a victim intends to press legal charges, the college has a responsibility for their students’ well-being. This is why in the Clery Act’s Victims of Sexual Assault Bill of Rights, they state that the college should assist victims in making a police report (if they wish to do so), and that legal action is seen as a parallel option to reporting to the school.

The college has a responsibility to protect their students and also to accommodate special needs to ensure that everyone has access to a harassment free educational environment. Therefore there are steps a college can take independently of any legal proceedings, such as offering students counseling, making accommodations to course schedules, requiring the accused student to avoid the victim, and ensuring that victims have support in making a police report, if they should choose to do so.

» Hasn’t Christendom helped more people than it may have hurt? Aren’t you harming families by asking for someone to step down from their job or by exposing failures on the part of faculty and staff members?

Some have argued that Christendom’s reputation is more important to preserve than for individual victims to have their stories heard. However, Jesus told the story of the Good Shepherd who cared more for the one sheep who was lost than the 99 who were safe, and risked his own life to rescue that lost sheep. The argument that we must uphold Christendom’s reputation at the expense of these victims sounds more like the argument made by Caiaphas when he said “ it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (Jn 11:50). Jesus taught that “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” and “just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Mt 25:40,45)

We do not wish for anyone to suffer harm, particularly when others with no responsibility for these people’s actions (or inaction) may be affected negatively by such consequences – however we do believe that it is unjust and unacceptable for a person to remain in a position of authority when their behavior or negligence has proven harmful to others and will likely continue to do so. This would be a failure to protect the people under that person’s care.

We hope that Christendom will continue to flourish for years to come, after having put in place policies that will keep women safe.

» I felt perfectly safe when I attended Christendom. Doesn’t that prove it is safe?

The vast majority of Christendom students have never been the victim of any violent crime. However, for those that have been, Christendom was not a safe environment. In fact, their feeling of safety, encouraged by an administration that failed to offer appropriate information and resources regarding safety best practices and red flags to be aware of, may have made them more vulnerable. And unfortunately it is common that even with abusers themselves, you may not have a negative experience unless you happen to be targeted by them as a victim.

We do believe that overall, Christendom College is statistically a safer environment for students than many other schools. However, bad things can happen anywhere, and it is important to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that victims are adequately supported if such incidents occur. We also have no verifiable data to support this assumption about the college’s safety relative to other comparable schools, as the college has chosen not to release the same crime report statistics which are legally required of other schools under Title IX.