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Lawsuit alleges MSU Title IX officer dissuaded student from reporting assault

November 12, 2019
Beaumont Tower on Aug. 23, 2019.
Beaumont Tower on Aug. 23, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

A lawsuit filed Sunday against Michigan State claims the university's Title IX office dissuaded a student from reporting two instances of sexual assault.

Sage Wood, who started at MSU in 2015, filed the lawsuit and is asking for compensation for psychological and emotional distress in the aftermath of sexual assault.

After beginning her freshman year, she began a relationship with another student, according to the complaint filed.

According to court records, the other student involved, referred to in court documents as "John Roe 1," emotionally, mentally, sexually and physically abused Wood.

The complaint said Wood felt threatened and fearful of the student after harassment over the phone and social media and frequently seeing Roe near her dorms.

The second incident in the complaint references an instance when Wood visited another MSU student and member of the Sigma Kappa chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at their fraternity house during the fall semester of 2016.

According to the complaint, Wood does not remember the time period between arriving at the fraternity house and waking up upstairs.

The complaint documents that she awoke feeling dizzy and confused, had double-vision and had trouble walking. According to the court document, she asked the chapter president to call 911, but the fraternity president refused, and she called 911 herself.

Wood realized after being treated by emergency services and taken to Sparrow Hospital that she was sexually assaulted, based on how her body felt, according to court records.

In December of 2016, Wood contacted MSU's Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, to speak with a Title IX investigator, according to the complaint. The OIE is responsible for attending to student cases of discrimination and harassment.

According to Wood, she discussed both incidents with the OIE investigator, including her fear of John Roe 1 and the retaliation she had experienced from fraternity members following the second sexual assault.

"You're lucky. It could've been a lot worse," the investigator told her, according to the complaint.

According to court records, Wood was not advised about the resources she could seek after their meeting.

"It's hard to prove, probably nothing would come of it, and you would have to see [the alleged perpetrators] which could be more damaging," the investigator said, according to the complaint.

The OIE investigator also allegedly told Wood she would not want to ruin John Roe 1's chances of getting into a graduate program.

In attempting to retrieve her counseling records in November 2018, Wood was reportedly asked by MSU Sexual Assault Program Director Tana Fedewa why she wanted her records. In the complaint, Wood said she felt humiliated and embarrassed for having to ask for her own counseling records.

Fedewa, director of the program which was renamed Center For Survivors at MSU, declined to comment.

Although the body of the complaint doesn't specify who the Title IX investigator was, Lauren Spencer, an OIE investigator, is a defendant in Wood's lawsuit.

Other defendants in this lawsuit include former OIE Director Ande Durojaiye, former Title IX Coordinator Jessica Norris, former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, the MSU Board of Trustees and the university as a whole.

In response to these incidents, according to the complaint, Wood is asking that MSU and other defendants be held accountable for the emotional and psychological distress she experienced due to the treatment she received from those named in the lawsuit. She is also asking for the response to sex-based discrimination and harassment to be reformed.

"The university has not been served yet with the lawsuit, so we haven’t had a chance to review it," MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said in an email to The State News. "It is our practice to support all those who come forward to file an OIE report and make sure they receive appropriate information on the process and also support services related to their experience."

Editor's note — This story was updated to include a comment from Michigan State University.

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