MTSU students say Title IX failed them in handling of stalking allegations


Paul Oscai was arrested on campus for criminal trespass on April 9, 2018. (WSMV)

Photo courtesy of WSMV Channel 4 News 

‘I realized I was being stalked’: MTSU students accuse fellow student of serial stalking

You see stalking at the center of many horror films, but for several MTSU students, that fear reportedly became a reality at the hands of student Paul Oscai. Oscai has since been suspended from campus on April 9, 2018. Immediately upon his suspension, Oscai was observed by an MTSU campus police officer chasing after a woman and her dog, which resulted in Oscai’s arrest for criminal trespassing. The full report for his arrest can be seen below.

 

Sarah’s first encounter with the man who reportedly stalked her was innocent enough.  The MTSU senior was in the James E. Walker Library studying. She was seated alone in an area with plenty of empty seats, when a man with dark hair approached. He asked if she would move her backpack so he could sit down next to her. She thought the request odd because there were several available seats around her. Over the next half hour, the man tried to engage in small talk with her and later began circling her “like a shark,” Sarah remembers.  As quickly as he appeared, the man left.

Made uncomfortable by the conversation, Sarah (who requested her real name not be used) texted her boyfriend to pick her up. At this time she didn’t know the man’s name, but soon she would.

His name was Paul Oscai, a 25-year-old student attending his fifth university since 2010. Oscai, according to Sarah and several other women, began following them on campus, leaving them disturbed by his actions.

“He was probably following me to class everyday or every other day,” recalled Sarah.

Weeks after their meeting in the library, Sarah entered the elevator in the Student Union Building, followed by Oscai. He again attempted to make small talk and asked Sarah, “Have you seen me around before?” to which Sarah replied she hadn’t.

“You will,” promised Oscai before exiting the elevator.

At that moment, Sarah had a sobering realization: she did recognize Oscai. “That’s when I realized this individual was the same individual I saw in the library, and I had seen him around following me to classes … I realized I was being stalked.”

Sarah reached out to a religious studies professor who encouraged her to contact the Title IX office. Title IX, founded in 1972, is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. 

Like Sarah, freshman Gabby Swenson was not acquainted with Oscai until he approached her in the Davis Science Building in February.

While doing her homework, Oscai walked up to Swenson and called her “cute.” She brushed him off, but he continued to stand over her while she studied. He left the building, but later returned an hour later and once more approached Swenson who requested that he leave her alone. To further her point, she put her headphones on, hoping to end the discussion. Oscai sat next to her, staring at her until Swenson had a friend call her, giving her an opportunity to leave while on the phone.

A few weeks later while walking by the SUB, she passed Oscai. They made eye contact, and he followed her to her on-campus apartment. Frightened, Swenson did not enter her building but instead got in her car and left campus.

A week later while walking to the Campus Recreation Center, she passed Oscai, but noticed him first, giving her time to dodge him. She then realized that Oscai was walking in the direction of her apartment. Concerned, she texted her roommate who stepped outside and observed Oscai standing in front of their building, just “staring at it.”

“I’m pretty confident he went there because I lived in that building,” Swenson said.

At the time, University officials had banned Oscai from all residence halls, but Swenson was not aware, as she was reportedly never notified of any sort of banning. In addition to being banned from residence halls, Oscai was also not allowed in the SUB, College of Education Building or the campus library.

‘It’s been very difficult’: How Title IX handled MTSU’s accused serial stalker

Created in 1972, Title IX was formed as a federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in education. Included in sex discrimination is sexual harassment and sexual assault, both of which are considered sexual violence.

According to MTSU’s Title IX policy, sexual violence includes stalking. The definition of stalking per MTSU is

A willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested, and that actually causes the accuser to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested. Harassment means conduct directed toward the accuser that includes, but is not limited to, repeated or continuing unconsented contact that would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress, and that actually causes the accuser to suffer emotional distress. Harassment does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.”

When Sarah reached out to Title IX, she was connected with Christy Sigler, MTSU’s Title IX coordinator and investigator. Upon meeting with Sigler, Sigler confirmed to Sarah that based upon her description of her accused stalker, it was likely the same man harassing other women on campus. Later, Sarah confirmed Oscai’s identity in a lineup of photos. According to Sarah, Sigler told her she was the eighth person to come to Title IX over Oscai.

“It made me feel very vulnerable,” Sarah said.

Despite his affinity for following women on MTSU’s campus, Sigler assured Sarah that Oscai was not dangerous. Swenson was told a similar remark.  “He just made girls feel ‘creepy,’” Sigler reportedly told Sarah. However, Sarah later unearthed several of Oscai’s former arrest records from Illinois, where he previously lived, including one for domestic assault. Sidelines was able to corroborate the records. 

Due to fear of retaliation from Oscai, Sarah chose to remain anonymous in Title IX’s investigation. This would mean that her name would not be attached to their findings and most importantly, to Sarah, Oscai wouldn’t know who she was. Swenson on the other hand used her name, as she had already filed a campus police report against Oscai, unaware that it would be forwarded to the Title IX office.

However, anonymity would prove to be difficult for Sarah. According to her, those involved in the investigation told her that practicing her right to remain anonymous made their jobs “harder.”

“While accusers, in general, have the right to remain anonymous, sometimes those decisions impact how investigations are able to proceed effectively, such as when they limit an accused student’s ability to respond effectively,” Sigler said.

Sarah continued to see Oscai all over campus on her way to class, often following her. Things reached a breaking point for Sarah when Oscai followed her into the women’s restroom in the SUB, banged on the door of her stall and told her to “keep your mouth shut, bitch.” She reported this to Sigler, but the perceived threatening behavior did not result in Oscai’s removal from campus.

Although Sarah was interested in pursuing an order of protection from Murfreesboro police, which would make it a crime if Oscai approached Sarah or contacted her, it would force her to share both her name and address with Oscai, which wasn’t an option for her. Instead, she opted to request building bans, which would prohibit Oscai from entering certain buildings on campus.

Two days after Sigler reportedly told Sarah that her request for a Student Union Building ban had been approved, Oscai entered the building while Sarah was present. Oscai approached Sarah, touched the back of her chair, called her “pretty” and told her he would be seeing her later. He then followed her around the building for 5-10 minutes, according to Sarah.

Despite confirmation from Sigler that the ban had been approved, Sarah then learned that the ban had yet to even be filed, meaning that Oscai would face no punishment for entering the Student Union and harassing her. Sigler cited Sarah’s anonymity as sufficient reason for why the ban had not yet been approved, but did not offer a reason as to why Sarah was misinformed about the ban’s approval two days prior.

When the building bans were finally approved, Oscai was not allowed to enter the Student Union Building, College of Education Building, campus dorms or the James E. Walker Library. According to Sarah, he was originally banned from the James Union Building where she has the majority of her classes, but was later informed that since the JUB houses a RaiderZone, Oscai “had to eat” and was allowed access during certain times.

Immediately after the ban approval, Oscai once again entered the Student Union. Although he didn’t see her, Sarah saw him and contacted Sigler. In turn, Sigler reached out to campus police and promised to notify her of the outcome.

“I did not get a call that it had been taken care of,” Sarah said.

Upon reaching out to student workers in the Student Union, Sarah realized they were unaware of Oscai’s banning from the SUB; no one had notified them.

“I realized that this individual was either working the system or had no regard for the building bans,” Sarah said. “If I hadn’t called and said he was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, I don’t think anything would’ve happened.”

Sarah and Swenson both received emails detailing places on campus they should not go due to the possibility of running into Oscai.

“I found it disturbing that they sent me a list of places to avoid when he could have just avoided those places as well,” Swenson said. “The places they sent me were the JUB and the PODs; they were just common places. I had to avoid places on campus when he was just allowed to go (wherever).”

Both women were confused as to why Oscai remained on campus during the investigation, as per MTSU policy, interim suspension was an option. This would mean that during the investigation, Oscai would be suspended from campus.  

“I feel like they could have banned him from campus during the period of the investigation,” Swenson said.

“Due to federal student privacy laws, I cannot comment on specific student disciplinary investigations or actions,” Sigler said when Sidelines asked why Oscai was allowed to remain on campus during the investigation. “Accusations such as stalking are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and during the course of an investigation, all involved students are entitled to due process, as all of our disciplinary procedures for students are required to balance the constitutional rights of both the accuser and the accused.”

Sigler recommended that Sarah carry pepper spray, which infuriated her. “That made me kind of angry,” Sarah said. “My protection is my job now, but it’s supposed to be yours.”

When Sidelines asked Sigler about safeguards in place to protect students, she stated that MTSU’s Raider Patrol service offered personal escorts to campus locations upon request. Sarah requested police escorts occasionally to and from class, but found that it was not feasible to have a campus officer escort her, as riding the bus with her or driving her in the patrol car was reportedly “against protocol.” Sarah, an avid dancer, suffered a stress fracture in her foot that made walking across campus difficult, forcing her to rely on the bus for transportation.

Sarah reached out to campus police where she found that six reports had been filed about Oscai’s stalking and harassment of MTSU students. According to Sarah, an MTSU police officer told her that their reports were all sent to the Title IX office. When Sarah questioned Sigler about the previous reports, one dating back to May 2017, Sigler said that they might have been investigated but she didn’t actually know if they had or not. As Deputy Title IX Coordinator and Investigator, it is Sigler’s responsibility to investigate claims made to Title IX and ensure Title IX compliance. Sigler is one of three deputy Title IX coordinators at MTSU.

Swenson originally reported Oscai’s stalking to campus police, unaware that her report would be sent to Title IX. Days after filing the police report, Sigler reportedly contacted Swenson to schedule a Title IX meeting that was “not optional.” According to Swenson, campus police told her that she was the eighth woman to come to them about Oscai.

 

“They did tell me there was not a lot they could do … the thing is, eight girls is a lot,” Swenson said.

“It made me angry that somebody that has been an issue on campus, that has a public record, that has been harassing other women has been allowed to get away with this for this long,” Sarah said.

Upon hearing great things about MTSU’s sexual assault liaison Amy Dean, Sarah reached out to her. Dean encouraged Sarah to file a police report, which she declined due to wanting to protect her anonymity. Sarah considered Dean an ally, but that quickly faded upon Sarah interviewing with Channel 4 News. After her interview, Dean texted Sarah, accusing her of “lashing out” by going to the media. She also suggested in an email that Sarah was paranoid and needed to seek counseling services.

After her anonymous interview with Channel 4 News, Sigler reportedly requested to meet with Sarah on April 11 to “clarify” what she said and inform her they were “getting ready to wrap up the investigation.” This meeting was two days after Oscai’s arrest on campus. Sigler did not notify Sarah of the arrest despite it being public record, which she could legally share.

Sarah was told by Laura Sosh-Lightsy that due to her emotional state, it would be best to no longer discuss the investigation unless necessary. This conflicts with university policy which states, “The investigator should inform the parties of the status of the investigation on a periodic basis.” Sosh-Lightsy was also involved in Sarah’s investigation. When Sarah attended a scheduled meeting with Sosh-Lightsly, Oscai was sitting outside of her office. Sarah does not know why Oscai was present, as he did not have a meeting with Sosh-Lightsy at that time, and believes that he followed her. 

Sosh-Lightsy also states that due to MTSU being an open campus, people can come and go without detection.

“They’ve already told me when I’ve asked that they don’t have the manpower (to monitor his whereabouts),” Sarah said. “And campus police is understaffed, and Title IX is understaffed, and everything is understaffed, to get somebody there to monitor his whereabouts.”

Sidelines asked Sigler how MTSU was monitoring Oscai’s whereabouts and how, in general, they keep suspended students from entering campus. “In recent years, MTSU has installed more security cameras, improved campus lighting, increased foot patrols and community policing,” Sigler said.  

Both Swenson and Sarah stated that improved communication would have benefited them both during the process of the investigation. Swenson met with Sigler on Feb. 22, 2018. After the initial meeting, she did not hear from Sigler again until the end of March.

“The problem was they didn’t keep me that updated,” Swenson said. “There was the (initial) interview, and that was kind of it. I didn’t hear anything else until March 26 when I got my first update about the investigation, and they gave me a list of places not to go because that’s where Paul might be.”

If it had not been for going to campus police first, Swenson said she would not have reported to Title IX simply because she was unaware of the process. She believes MTSU needs to do more to inform their students of what Title IX is, how to report and the details of investigating.

“The ideal solution would be for this whole system to be modified,” Sarah said.  

‘Faculty have been the ones to step up’: How MTSU’s community is responding to Paul Oscai

Since Sarah’s first encounter with accused stalker Paul Oscai, she has relied heavily on MTSU faculty to be her advocate and make her feel safe. “Faculty have been the ones to step up,” Sarah said.

Sarah’s professors – and even faculty members who did not have her in class but were called to action – rallied for Sarah by going to Title IX on her behalf.

Some faculty members have taken it upon themselves to organize an ad hoc committee with the intent of calling Title IX practices into question. They hope to work alongside Title IX, MTSU police and other campus resources to resolve issues in reporting to Title IX, in addition to clarifying lines of authority. The goal of clarification is a direct result of the handling of Sarah’s Title IX complaint, which passed through several hands in different departments across campus – such as Title IX, campus police and Student Affairs – making it reportedly difficult to hold administrators accountable for the investigation as well as troublesome to stay on top of updates in the case.

“The Women’s and Gender Studies program has formed an ad hoc committee of WGST faculty concerned by the campus response to complaints made by students related to sexual harassment, assault and stalking behavior,” said Vicki MacLean, director of Women’s and Gender Studies at MTSU. “The recent case of multiple women students filing complaints against a male MTSU student for stalking behavior and use of intimidation tactics concerns us.”

Women’s and Gender Studies faculty involved in the ad hoc committee also hope to create transparency with the Title IX office on campus. When Sidelines requested the official Title IX investigation findings, they were denied access to the case, with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, better known as FERPA, cited as sufficient reason to deny the request. If Oscai had signed a form granting Sidelines access, the investigation findings could have been obtained. Similarly, when Sidelines requested confirmation of Oscai’s suspension from campus, Jimmy Hart of MTSU News and Media Relations office stated that Oscai’s status could neither be confirmed nor denied due to FERPA. However, Sidelines has received similar information in the past without issue prior to this investigation.

Based upon information found in Oscai’s record of colleges attended, Oscai attended four universities prior to coming to MTSU, where he stayed an average of two semesters at each. Sidelines reached out to all four universities, requesting any information, reports or investigations similar to what happened at MTSU with Oscai.

“I can tell you that disciplinary records are not automatically forwarded to other institutions when a student transfers,” said Robin Kaler, associate director for public affairs at the University of Illinois, which Oscai attended for two semesters in 2010. 

Laura Brown, vice president of marketing and communications at William Rainey Harper College in Illinois, confirmed that Oscai attended in 2012. According to Brown, no disciplinary records existed for Oscai.

Oscai also attended Motlow State Community College. Sidelines reached out for comment and is waiting for a response, as the request was sent to Motlow Office of Human Resources. 

Some students feel outraged by what they perceive as MTSU administration not doing enough to protect their students from Oscai.

“Myself and some other students – who I asked for help from because of their skills and history protesting on campus – have agreed that the lack of response, and later treatment of the victim, from the school over this stalking ordeal needs attention,” said junior Allison Reddish. “In addition to addressing MTSU’s vague – or lack of – stalking policies, we hope to have a huge event with speakers coming to talk who can empower and advise students on how to make our campus a safe place for women.”

Although Reddish says there is not enough time to organize a protest this semester, she and other students and organizations plan to join forces in the fall to spark a conversation about addressing concerns dealing with women’s safety on MTSU’s campus.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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