Monday, June 1, 2020

Sexually assaulted by co-worker, employee speaks about MSU Greenline

Chanin went out one night with her MSU Greenline friends to celebrate during MSU’s 2017 Welcome Week. She said that’s when she was sexually assaulted by her co-worker.

November 29, 2018
<p>MSU senior Kaitlin Chanin is pictured on Oct. 24, 2018. Chanin majors in comparative culture and politics and minors in peace and justice studies, Jewish studies and dance.</p>

MSU senior Kaitlin Chanin is pictured on Oct. 24, 2018. Chanin majors in comparative culture and politics and minors in peace and justice studies, Jewish studies and dance.

Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

As an out-of-state student from Florida, comparative cultures and politics senior Kaitlin Chanin enrolled at Michigan State to experience four different seasons and receive an education to prepare her for a law career.  

In addition to her studies, Chanin works at MSU Greenline. Located on the second floor of Spartan Stadium, MSU Greenline is a student-run program where employees spend the year contacting MSU alumni for donations. Chanin has worked there since her freshman year.

Chanin said she knew what she was getting into with taking on the additional responsibilities of a job at MSU. But she was not prepared for what became a months-long battle over her sexual assault during her time at MSU Greenline.

Katie’s Story

At MSU Greenline, students begin working as callers. After two years, Chanin rose to become a steward, the position above a caller. This was her role when she was sexually assaulted.

Chanin knew her assailant through work. The two were hired during the same academic year and became friends, often hanging out outside of work. 

Chanin went out one night with her MSU Greenline friends to celebrate during MSU’s 2017 Welcome Week. She said that’s when she was sexually assaulted by her co-worker.

After that, Chanin ignored all forms of contact attempted by her assailant. But the two had similar work schedules, which made it difficult for Chanin to completely avoid him. 

After repeated interactions with him in the following days, Chanin decided it was enough.

"That was my breaking point," Chanin said. "I had thought about reporting it, but didn’t know what to do and just that day, I don’t know what happened, but it brought me to that point."

Decision to Report 

She took the first step to report the assault on Oct. 26, 2017. She explained her situation to Nicolas Valentine, her shift’s production manager.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Chanin said. “All I knew was that by addressing it with someone who was higher than me, they would do something about it.”

MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, states all university employees — except for select positions — are obligated to make a report after being made aware of relationship violence, stalking or sexual misconduct allegedly perpetrated by a member of the university community.

After a mandatory reporter is made aware, reports are supposed to be filed with OIE and the MSU Police Department. Because Chanin’s assault occurred off-campus, the East Lansing Police Department was involved instead. 

Meetings with OIE and ELPD took place the week after Chanin’s report. Following a report, OIE says they typically reach out to the claimant and respondent and complete an investigation within 60 days. 

Chanin’s case stretched from November 2017 to April 2018 — about double the allotted time.

MSU Greenline’s Response

According to OIE’s final report on the matter, an investigation found sufficient evidence to prove Chanin’s case. OIE concluded the assailant “violated the University Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy” and their final report would be “submitted to the University’s Department of Student Life student conduct system to determine additional steps.”

That decision was not made final until April 3, 2018. 

During that time, Chanin continued to work at MSU Greenline. Her employment required her to undergo regular employee evaluations. In one, Chanin was rated poorly for her “at-work attitude.” 

She then disclosed what happened to her supervisor, who requested anonymity. Chanin explained her change of attitude to her supervisor, also a mandatory reporter.

Aside from Valentine, higher-up MSU Greenline personnel were not made aware of the situation until Chanin’s supervisor took it to MSU Greenline Assistant Director Justin Bricarell and Senior Director Kathleen Deneau of MSU Annual Giving. Deneau oversaw MSU Greenline.

“Upon learning about concerns happening with employees in Greenline, we followed university protocol in immediately reporting the situation to the Office of Institutional Equity,” Deneau wrote in an email. “We acted swiftly with the information once it was shared with us, and we took all allegations seriously as they were presented.”

Deneau deferred further comment to university spokesperson Emily Guerrant.

“I can say though, university wide, that in any situation if there is a finding, disciplinary actions are case by case,” Guerrant said. “There is no one-size-fits-all. It is the units — in this case the Greenline program — the unit working with the OIE office and the human resources office determine what the most appropriate punishment would be.”

Bricarell did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Chanin, her supervisor, Bricarell and Deneau sat down for a meeting to decide how to proceed with Chanin’s continued concerns. Chanin said she would quit if they did not fire her assaulter.

“In training, they harp so heavily on Greenline being a comfortable space for everyone,” Chanin said. “They firmly say that if there is any incidence of just sexual harassment, a step lower than sexual assault, they will be fired on the spot, no issue.”

MSU Greenline requires all employees to sign MSU’s Rules Governing Conduct of Employees, which lays out grounds for termination of university employees. It includes a description of what constitutes as workplace sexual harassment.

Violations of the conduct policies can result in “disciplinary actions,” according to the document.

MSU Greenline is also an at-will employer, meaning the institution can terminate any employee at any time for any reason inside legal boundaries.

“Her (Deneau’s) response to everything was ‘My hands are tied,’” Chanin said. Chanin’s supervisor confirmed this statement. Bricarell and Deneau also told Chanin “they did not need to know the details” of her situation, according to the OIE report.

“It was absolutely horrible, and I think the most angering thing for me is how Kathleen and Justin handled it,” Chanin said. “I think it’s really important for people to know what happens behind closed doors.”  

Moving Forward 

Chanin wanted to start her senior year with everything behind her, so she didn’t continue to appeal the case. After it had consumed her junior year, Chanin didn’t want it to follow her into her MSU summer study abroad. 

Chanin handled everything on her own, without telling even her parents.

“It was one thing after another and I barely had time to breathe,” Chanin said.  

Today, Chanin is applying to graduate law programs. While she’s proud to be in MSU’s James Madison College, she’s not proud of being from the university itself.

“This has absolutely turned me off to wanting to go to a university like this for law school,” Chanin said. 

After spending a large portion of her college career working for MSU Greenline, Chanin said she felt discouraged when it let her down. 

"Greenline hits home for me ... I think when people think of sexual assault they think of some drunk, frat boy or some asshole at a bar," Chanin said. "No one thinks it’s going to hit close to home."

Chanin also expressed her disappointment in Michigan State as an institution responsible for the well-being of its students. 

“The university, Kathleen and Justin, who are staff members of the university for Annual Giving, literally covered it up and also asked me to cover it up,” Chanin said. “I think this is something that’s necessary for people to know. I’ve wanted to do something about it for the longest time because I feel so sick working for an institution that supports something like this.”

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