Elon University junior Maddie Pierce remembers feeling excited on election night when she realized Donald Trump was elected president Nov. 8, 2016. Despite the overwhelming polls that suggested otherwise months before, she never doubted the result.
But the next morning when she walked around campus, she was scared.
“As a female Republican, I was confronted by a new kind of judgment for being a Republican that I never faced before,” Pierce said. “I got a lot of comments like, ‘You’re a woman, how can you support this man that is against so many things that are so important to you?’”
Even leading up to the election, Pierce experienced backlash.
Pierce, who is the public relations chair of College Republicans, once left her computer unattended to get food. When she returned, the Trump sticker had been ripped off. She said she was ashamed to report the incident to the administration because she thought she would not be supported because of her conservative views.
Last week marked the one year anniversary of Trump’s stunning election victory. In that time, his White House has been swarmed with controversies similar to the ones he caused on the campaign trail. On Elon’s campus, political views are still polarized. In particular, Republicans say they feel the brunt of the division.
“As a conservative woman on this campus, I often find myself staying quiet instead of putting my personal opinions out there just because I am afraid of being shut down,” Pierce said. “I’ve had classes where I adjust what I say in class, on tests and papers because I don’t want to be judged as too far-right.”
According to a CNN Politics poll, Clinton won the youth vote by 55 percent, while Trump won 37 percent of the Millennial voters age 18-29. Despite not winning the youth vote, Trump garnered 306 Electoral College votes out of the 270 needed to win while Clinton won 232. The voting in certain swing states surprised many, such as sophomore Trevor Murrah, vice chairman of the College Republicans.
“I did have mixed feelings about Trump’s policies — any rational voter should,” Murrah said. “Looking back at the results, I think it was a good turning point to see the Republican Party trying to unify and trying to come forward to a mission not just associated with Donald Trump as a person, but rather try to show what the silent majority was speaking to.”
Jason Husser, assistant professor of political science, said the 2016 election cycle made Elon more politically engaged because current events now revolve around politics.
“There are slightly higher levels of political engagement largely because of the policy context in part because we have a president who is unique in American history,” Husser said. “Now that the Republican party is in a better position to be able to affect change, that has led to more controversies in Washington, which trickle down throughout society and of course cause people to have different ideas on campus.”
Measuring the trickle-down effect
Despite feeling uncomfortable at times, Pierce, along with other College Republicans, hope to discuss politics more openly with Democrats.
“We just want to show people we are not the current administration,” Pierce said. “Republicans on this campus are not monsters.”
Pierce hopes there will be a point where she is unafraid to be herself. She hopes the polarization in the nation and on campus will improve so people in the middle of the spectrum won’t be forced to choose a side.
Contrary to Pierce, junior Katherine Evans, vice president of College Democrats, has felt the need to speak her political views to have meaningful conversations without hesitation.
“I think if people are going to make judgments about me then so be it,” Evans said. “I don’t see any need to hide my political affiliation in any way in the classroom. I feel comfortable talking about it.”
Evans believes some people chose to remain quiet to be politically correct, and are afraid of the arguments from someone of the opposing view.
“We’re kind of at a stalemate right now,” Evans said. “If you don’t look at each other’s views and kind of try to empathize, sympathize or try to understand why they might feel that way, then you’re never going to
For Evans, the first steps to fix polarization on Elon’s campus are to be objective and take emotion out of discussions. Understanding Republicans and their thinking allows for open conversations on politics, which
“You can’t really live your life in a bubble surrounded by like-minded people,” Evans said. “It keeps you from seeing other viewpoints and other ways of thinking.”
Reaching out to the other side
Evans and Pierce said both sides have tried to do just that — surround themselves with contrasting viewpoints.
Murrah said the months leading up to the 2016 election unearthed tension between Elon’s political clubs and beyond. Since the election, he thinks those organizations — College Democrats, College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty — have changed. Debates, such as the ones hosted by the Elon Political Forum, exemplify that.
“I think we’ve started to see a trend in which the political clubs are starting to come more and more together to not polarize the campus, but rather have a civic discourse and try to push a more pleasant way to talk about politics,” Murrah said.
Evans attended College Republican meetings and believes the integration of political organizations is key. Murrah, along with other College Republicans, have also attended College Democrat meetings.
“I think it’s important to have all the views present than to have it one sided because it does make it seem like Elon is a Democratic campus if we only have Democrats talking about their views,” Evans said. “That is not an accurate representation of the campus and not an accurate representation of our nation at all.”
Rise of polarization
A May 2017 study by the University of California at Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute showed political polarization of the university’s freshmen. It has been the most extreme in the survey’s history in 51 years.
About 42.3 percent of freshmen characterized their political orientation as middle of the road, while 35.5 percent considered themselves liberal or far-left and 22.2 percent said they were conservative or far-right.
Husser believes university campuses are social institutions that can be divided by politics in the new cycle of polarization. Strong protests on campuses such as the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia and the University of Florida show this.
“I will say of the universities I’ve been watching across the country, I think Elon is on the better end of dealing with it,” Husser said. “It strikes me that Elon has devoted tremendous resources and attention to making sure that there are moments of dialogue and that these dialogue are open to people of multiple sides.”
Through debates with the political organizations on campus as well as town halls, Elon has begun to
“Elon also has a commitment to talk about issues even when they’re not necessarily the most comfortable to talk about,” Husser said.
Husser says the social divisions that push people apart through polarization are not unique to Elon since they happen in all college campuses because of what is caused by politicians in Washington. Though Husser is unsure if polarization will improve before it gets worse, he says that what can help this issue is if more people would participate in the primary elections.
Millennials constituted 19 percent of the voters in the 2016 presidential election. Husser believes that though this age group is willing to engage with the other side and have open dialogues, they still need to begin contributing even more when it comes to politics.
“When they start participating I have hope that we will see some solutions for this crisis in American politics,” Husser said. “My big hope is that students are spending four years being thoughtful about other people’s positions and that process will lead them to be the thoughtful leaders that we need in some ways to sort of rescue American society from a cycle of division.”
Jen Guy Metcalf, assistant professor of dance and artistic director of the show, begins thinking of concepts or ideas for the show about a year in advance. She does a lot of research through websites, books, movies, music and photography to find a concept for her piece and the show itself.
“I gather all that and start to generate movement inspired by my research,” Metcalf said. “I teach that to the dancers not in a linear way. I just teach the movement, and I start to edit and shape the dance.”
While directing the path of the concert, Metcalf, along with faculty in the dance department, also selected student choreography in December 2016 during a salon showcase. From that salon, they decided what pieces of students taking the choreography course would go to national conferences and which will be in the fall dance concert.
“We encourage our students to explore,” Metcalf said. “We place emphasis on crafting choreography and developing movement.”
The opportunity for students to showcase their choreography onstage allows them to have professional experience outside the classroom.
The works in this year’s fall concert are mainly contemporary in dance style and music. The piece Metcalf choreographed is a contemporary pointe piece. Aside from choreographing her piece, Metcalf also mentors the student choreographers and offers feedback so they can improve certain parts of the dance.
“We have helped them to improve their choreographic work and encourage them to coach their dancers in the performance of the piece,” Metcalf said. “Not only do the choreographers improve, but the dancers also develop as artists as a part of this process.”
One of the dances Metcalf is most excited about is called, “Don’t stop (verb ending in -ing),” which is part of the Mad Limbs course.
This course was inspired by a conference presentation and is a play on the words “Mad Libs,” the word game. Renay Aumiller, assistant professor of dance, and Metcalf helped develop and teach this course, which was open to all university students and consists of students with a variety of academic interests, such as dance majors, dance minors, communications majors and business majors. There was no casting for this piece because the cast includes everyone enrolled in the course.
“It’s an example of our scholarship finding its way into the classroom,” Metcalf said.
The performance of this dance will be different every night of the show since it has a focus on improvisation through verbal communication and physical movements.
“I find such great pleasure in the rehearsal process, but what is really exciting is when the students take everything they have learned from class onstage, and you can see evidence that they are truly learning and developing as artists,” Metcalf said.
Pushing and Pulling through dance
While taking the “choreography I” course, junior dance major Brittany Pappaconstantinou remembers using numbers to make dance. She did this through the chance method. By using this, she would get a list of numbers such as her phone or zip code.
“Each number is a sign to movement,” Pappaconstantinou said. “ It would be like zero push arm, one pull leg, two push head, so we would randomly create these phrases based off of that.”
From this, she was inspired to make a contemporary modern duet which she presented at the December salon showcase and was selected as one of two student choreographies featured in the fall concert.
“I focused the momentum of pushing and pulling,” Pappaconstantinou said. “They are constantly partnering so pushing and pulling each other’s weight.”
After being selected, Pappaconstantinou began rehearsing with the two classmates she casted for the piece. They rehearsed twice a week for one hour each time last year and this year they rehearse once a week for about an hour and a half. She used the chance method with the dancers to find movement that would fit the piece. She describes being on the choreography side as “nerve-wracking and exciting.”
“It’s hard to make a duet when you’re one person,” Pappaconstantinou said. “It was really difficult for me to plan [the movements] because I didn’t really know how it would look like on their bodies and how it would work out.”
As she rehearsed for the piece, Pappaconstantinou had to learn to detach herself from being a friend and classmate to the dancers and become a choreographer. The mutual respect they all have for each other helped them have a collaborative effort in rehearsals.
“They try to be respectful and offer good suggestions like if they think something would work better or something does not feel right,” Pappaconstantinou said. “They let me know and it honestly it is really nice to work with people who respect you as a friend and as a choreographer because they give you suggestions but also listen.”
Pappaconstantinou was able to receive feedback and guidance from faculty such as Metcalf while making the choreography and rehearsing.
“I think the faculty have really pushed me this year as a choreographer,” Metcalf said. “I would not have been able to do it without them and their encouragement.”
The help from Metcalf especially helped her with deciding the lighting design and other components Pappaconstantinou had never dealt with as a performer.
Contrary to other pieces in the show, Pappaconstantinou’s does not have a specific meaning. There is no relationship between the dancers, but there is a lot of partnering throughout.
“I am interested to see what the audience takes away and what type of meaning they put to it,” Pappaconstantinou said. “It is really just about the structure of the piece that I was thinking about.”
Balancing pointe shoes with books
Sophomore Meg Boericke channels the temper tantrums she would throw when she was younger and growing up with her older brother to get into character for Kira Blazek, the guest
This piece explores dance through the ages using music of Stevie Nicks, The Ya Ya’s and Hole.
“It’s very like, ‘It’s not a phase mom’ type of mood and feeling and very 90s,” Boericke said. “It’s all about trying to empathize with the audience so, what can I do to make the audience think that I’m angry throwing a temper tantrum.”
Boericke is also in Metcalf’s pointe piece, which is not as upbeat and high energy as Blazek’s. She has to do a lot of compartmentalizing to figure out what she needs to do while performing both pieces since they are so different from each other. With a lot of competition circuits coming up, Boericke is pleased to see what Metcalf is doing with contemporary pointe.
“I feel like it’s much more relevant with the type of dance that’s trending right now, so it’s very edgy,” Boericke said. “You still have a lot of the classical elements, the lifts that we do can be seen in classical ballets, but she takes it in a more modern and contemporary mood, which I think can make this dying art a little more relevant to today’s times.”
As a strategic communications and dance double major, Boericke stays busy studying and rehearsing. She is able to manage her time and balance both areas of study by staying organized, eating healthy and being physically and mentally prepared.
“Trying to study for five different tests at once and being able to keep all the information organized in their respective areas is difficult,” Boericke said. “There are times when you have to forsake a little bit of your social life just to get a few extra hours of sleep.”
Through the challenges Boericke faces with her two majors and dance concerts, she enjoys dancing and giving meaning to the pieces she performs.
“It’s my best form of empathy and communication,” Boericke said. “It’s the reason I am able to connect with my friends because a lot of times I’m put in pieces where I haven’t actually experienced what it is I’m trying to convey, but I have to relate it to my own experience in order to shuffle off the details and break it down to the base emotions.”
The recent police shootings, current political climate and protests such as the one Charlottesville, Virginia have led senior Alonzo Cee to combat the negative stereotypes aimed at black males.
While interning and doing research at the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. headquarters this summer, Cee realized of the lack of support systems existing for black males on college campuses.
“The books I was reading and researched talked about that there needs to be support groups specifically targeted for black men in order to make them feel like they have some worth, have that connection and have that bond,” Cee said.
Cee’s research focused on African-American men on college campuses and he came across the subject of support systems in predominantly white college campuses. After reading about support systems, he says he had an aha moment thinking about the impact black men have on college campuses.
“The thing I reflected on was what support systems we have here at Elon for black men,” Cee said. “What I realized is that if you aren’t in a black fraternity or a sports team where a good amount of members aren’t POCs [people of color] or black, you aren’t going to have a support group.”
This led him to create the Black Men of Distinction group which kicked off with an Instagram page (@blackmenofeu) earlier this month. Cee wants this group to transcend social or extracurricular activities on campus.
“I wanted to be a part of something that had a positive impact amongst a demographic that isn’t really talked about,” Cee said.
The group began as a social media campaign to spotlight and showcase ‘black boy joy’ and accomplishments that black men achieve on Elon’s campus.
“I want this to be something that really tells a story and captures different moments of different black men on campus,” Cee said. “These posts can continue to live even after they’re posted.”
Cee wants the group to eventually become an organization specifically for black men where they are able to host events, panels and talk about subjects such as black manhood, identity and their roles on campus. He also wants to incorporate a mentor/mentee aspect to it.
To gain support from the entire scope of black men on campus, Cee contacted nine other black men from diverse areas on campus to help start the group. Some of the members represent fine arts, arts and sciences, SGA, the Connections office and athletics, among others.
“If you were really to delve into each identity of the 10 of us, we’re all black men,” Cee said. “But we’re all different, have different areas of expertise and different insights that we bring to the table.”
The mission of the Black Men of Distinction group is to change the narrative of the negative stereotypes black males have.
“You don’t really get to change the narrative until you actually have a force trying to do it,” Cee said. “I think with the different spheres of influence that we have, the social media campaign and the support group we’re trying to build up … I think we have a chance of doing it.”
Kicking off the campaign
The first post on the Instagram page was captioned “Bringing Elon Black Boy Joy…Soon to come.”
“Black boy joy is finding those moments that are joyful to a black man and really trying to show the positives of black manhood,” Cee said.
Freshman Zion McKnight began following the page even before stepping foot on Elon’s campus. For him, black boy joy means “being proud to be the black male that God created you to be.”
McKnight began following the page because when he saw the name of the page, he knew that it applied to him.
“I’m a black man and I’m now officially attending Elon University,” McKnight said. “I felt like the page would post things that I could relate with.”
According to Cee, who currently runs the Instagram account, the photos and statements used on the Instagram page are meant to be positive and uplift others.
The name “Black Men of Distinction” stems from the 10 men starting the campaign as well as the target audience who are distinct because of their skin color.
“We are set apart, but it’s stereotypically done in a negative fashion,” Cee said. “However, coupling that with black boy joy and the pure fact of this movement we’re also being distinct in our actions and in our influence that we have on campus.”
Though ideas are still being decided in terms of how they will pick those who will be showcased on the page, Cee thinks that direct message submissions could work as well as the spheres of influence of those leading the movement.
During this fall semester, the Black Men of Distinction will work under the Black Student Union and possibly in the spring become their own organization.
The group not only hopes to spotlight achievements of black men on campus, but also to be a support system for many — especially freshmen — beginning their journey at Elon.
During his first few days at Elon, McKnight felt welcomed by the different groups at Elon. When he visited the open house at the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (CREDE) last Friday, he met some of the creators of the @blackmenofeu page.
“I just felt a vibe with them,” McKnight said. “They were really optimistic and even referenced groups like the SMART program to join if I needed mentors or even just guidance.”
McKnight believes it is a great idea to have programs meant specifically for people of color.
“I feel like they’re essential because, for people of color who haven’t found themselves yet or are looking for somewhere to belong, they’ll have somewhere,” McKnight said.
He’s eager to get involved in these types of groups and, because of his interest in photography, hopes to promote his photography through the @blackmenofeu page.
Besides becoming a support group for students, Cee also hopes to showcase faculty and staff throughout campus that identifies as black males. He wants to begin with the CREDE staff first and then work his way through different departments.
“I didn’t just want to showcase what students do, I also wanted to showcase what administrators and faculty and staff do as well,” Cee said. “These are opportunities to find not just peer mentors, but faculty and staff mentors as well.”
Cee acknowledged that even faculty and staff on campus need that boost they can get from the group as well as be uplifted by the members. Though the Black Men of Distinction was his original idea, Cee hopes it becomes a movement that lives longer than his own existence.
“I want this to be something that is positive for all black men here on this campus and something that they can all take pride in,” Cee said. “So that the next person that is in charge of this program can actually hold this up high and be proud of it.”
Elon University sophomore Sophie Zinn considers herself the person in her friend group that is constantly encouraging others to talk about religion, a subject she is very passionate about and believes is not talked about much.
“It’s not really in the public sphere of college life or America in general as something that’s positive,” Zinn said. “I think that there are a lot of positive elements to religious dialogue and learning from other people’s interest and faith traditions.”
Zinn was raised Jewish and has been practicing Buddhism for four years. She does not identify with one main religion but bases her experiences more on her religious studies experiences learning why various religious traditions matter to those who don’t follow them.
“I think that our society has stigmatized religion as something that’s private and something that shouldn’t be talked about,” Zinn said. “However, because we have suppressed our religious identities in our country, we haven’t been able to interact on more personal levels with each other.”
Zinn, along with five other sophomores at Elon University, has recently been selected to be part of Elon’s first cohort of Multi-faith Scholars. The program combines academic coursework, undergraduate research and community engagement in multi-faith contexts. The students selected receive $5,000 annually in their junior and senior years to assist them in their development as engaged multi-faith leaders.
The idea of this program sprouted from the 2015 Multi-faith Strategic Plan of the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society, which advocated for the development of this program. A $100,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis foundation supported the establishment of the program.
Amy Allocco, associate professor of religious studies and director of the Multi-faith
Scholars program, said that the money from the grant will be used to underwrite the program during its first years, and then the university will assume its funding.
Allocco said that the goal of the program is to be interdisciplinary. It stretches across the whole university, and its first cohort is composed of students with a variety of majors, backgrounds and research topics.
“We are privileging students who are not otherwise cohorted,” Allocco said. “This is a great opportunity for students who wouldn’t otherwise have a research platform to get involved in this.”
Though a requirement to be admitted to the multi-faith scholars program is to be a religious studies major or interreligious studies minor, its first cohort ranges from students majoring in public heath, English, strategic communications, religious studies and international studies.
“Students who have multi-faith commitments will have the opportunity to pair classroom learning and a closely mentored undergraduate research experience with engagement outside of the university, with our local communities and use those three building blocks intersectionally,” Allocco said.
Sophomore Kristina Meyer, who is in the program’s first cohort along with Zinn, says she chose to apply to the program not only because of her interest in doing research with interfaith organizations, but also because she finds building relationships with her cohort as a valuable aspect of her experience.
“We each have different research topics,” Meyer said. “But the fact that we are engaging in multiple religions and engaging with people of multiple religions, we will be able to challenge each other and offer each other different perspectives.”
This two-year program requires the selected scholars to pursue their projects closely with faculty mentors. It also requires the students to engage with the local communities to promote multi-faith learning and diversity. During their first year, the scholars will work with their mentors to plan global engagement endeavors as well as research experiences that will assist in broadening their development as multi-faith leaders. During their senior year, they will take leadership roles on campus within different departments and lead educational events focused around religion.
Zinn hopes to gain a wider perspective of individual experiences not only from her cohort, but from those she engages within the community.
“I think a lot of the times its easy to associate different religions with particular belief systems or practices,” Zinn said. “But when it becomes more personal, I think that people’s convictions of others religions deteriorate.”
For Meyer, learning from other religions has made her more compassionate.
“I found that studying other religions and studying how people interact has strengthened my own faith,” Meyer said.
Meyer and Zinn are excited to see the expansion of the program and learn more about what they will be doing with their cohort and in their individual research projects.
Allocco hopes for the scholars to bring the communities that they engage with outside of Elon back to campus to facilitate conversations within the student body. She wants to see increased communication between religious communities at Elon and believes the scholars can change the conversation about religion at Elon. Her first meeting with the cohort will be Thursday, May 4. She hopes this meeting will serve as the “launching pad” for the cohort that she is looking to build.
“I hope we support one another in the challenging kinds of projects,” Allocco said. “Share resources and cheer one another along and ask hard questions to one another as we dig into these research projects and topics.”
The Elon Poll conducted April 18-21, 2017 found that the support for President Donald Trump among North Carolina voters has declined as he approaches the 100-day mark.
The findings showed that 51 percent of those surveyed disapproved with how Trump is handling his job as president. 42 percent approved it and seven percent did not know.
Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll, said that typically a president enjoys strong support during their first 100 days even from former opponents or critics, but Trump’s presidency has been different.
“His level of support on the first 100 days both for himself personally and for his key policies is as low as we’ve seen in the history of opinion polling,” Husser said. “Trump’s difficulty in presidential approval likely comes from two sources- his rhetorical and policy decisions which he has control over and a divisive polarized and dysfunctional political environment that makes it harder for any incoming president to function.”
Husser said that despite the low support, his core supporters remain loyal.
Sophomore Mollie Richter believes that Trump is very unprofessional as president of the United States.
“In his twitter, he’s yelling at people and making accusations with no evidence,” Richter said. “I don’t trust my country in someone like that.”
The same poll showed that nearly 75 percent of voters showed that Trump’s use of Twitter is inappropriate while 55 percent said it was appropriate.
“The people who like him are radicals and extremists and that is the crowd that he appeals to,” Richter said. “Anyone who has a rational state of mind and is logical can see that he’s not running things effectively.”
Senior Darius Moore agrees with the Elon poll findings and said that Trump’s use of twitter is not filtered or intelligent.
“Trump has done a really good job of being a grassroots kind of like connecting to the people leader,” Moore said. “He needs to work on being an intelligent speaker and less of a reality television star.”
The poll also found that voters in North Carolina oppose the border wall with Mexico and it showed an even split on the Affordable Care Act.
The Elon poll is a live-caller survey done through landline and cell phones of 506 voters. These were registered voters who were classified as likely voters in the Nov. 8 election. It has a margin error of +/- 4.36 percentage points.
All Takeva Mitchell could think of was getting clean, showering, hoping to erase the disgust, guilt and pain she felt. When her roommate found her crying she encouraged her to call the Elon Town Police. It was March 13, 2014. She had been sexually assaulted.
The sophomore at Elon University lived in the same apartment complex as Adrian McClendon, then a junior. They were hanging out for the first time until things took an unexpected turn at around 11:45 p.m. Mitchell struggled to fight him off. All she could think about was that she could use her strength to escape the touching, groping and pushing.
“It wasn’t until he got real physical with me that I realized, ‘Oh this is about to happen,’” Mitchell said. “Anything I did, he was on me. He was on my every move.”
Eventually, Mitchell yelled for McClendon to stop and let her go. He stopped and shooed her away. She gathered her belongings. As she approached the door of the apartment, he followed her. He reached out and put his hands inside her pants. She broke away.
Sophomore Crystal, a sophomore whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was walking home from a fraternity party after consuming alcohol. She texted another sophomore to see if they could meet. Crystal always made sure to tell guys she had consensual non-penetrative contact with that she wanted to wait for marriage to have sexual intercourse. It was Sept. 3, 2016.
As they laid naked in his bed, he kept on asking Crystal how certain contact felt. She responded saying it was fine but warned him not to go further or he would be inside of her. As she laid on top of him, he aggressively thrusted his hips and penetrated her after she had clearly told him she did not want that.
“I hopped off and went to the bathroom and there was a lot of blood. That was the most terrifying part of it,” Crystal said. “I looked down and there was blood everywhere.”
Unfortunately, these women’s experiences are like those of about 20 percent of college women. It is estimated that one out of every five college women will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault before they graduate.
Reporting or remaining silent
When Mitchell reported her case on the night of her assault, she remembers that her mind was going crazy. She did not know if the officers were going to believe her story and if they would take it seriously. After telling the officers who arrived at her apartment what had occurred, she was then taken to the station to give an official statement. She recalls the process of officially reporting the assault being long and tedious.
“They want you to tell where were you standing when this happened and where was he standing and where was his dresser at and where was his TV at and where was his bed,” Mitchell said. “Still to this day I can tell you exactly like how his bedroom was lined up.”
Mitchell said that the information she had to give in her statement had to be very precise with time and with specific details of what exactly had occurred. She said she understands why many victims do not report their cases. Going through the reporting process requires victims to constantly remind themselves of an experience they want to forget or not talk about.
The 2015 Elon University Annual Safety and Fire Report, the most recent report, states that there were three reported cases of rape and one of fondling. This is the same number of reported cases of rape and fondling in 2014 and two more than those reported in these areas in 2013. Because of the different avenues students have to report their cases, this is not a clear estimate nor does it say that only four sexual assault reports occurred that year.
When Crystal walked home after her assault, she called the university’s 24-hour confidential support hotline, Safeline, through which an advocate told her the options she had if she wanted to report the case as well as if she wanted to go to the hospital to complete the rape kit. The morning after the assault, she went to the hospital to complete the rape kit which she said was almost as bad as her original experience.
“I had to tell the story about seven or eight times, which is a nightmare because it just happened so I had to relive it over and I cried every single time I told it,” Crystal said.
According to the Elon Department of Health Promotion, students who believe they have been victims of sexual assault can report the incident by contacting law enforcement whether that be Campus Safety and Police or Elon Town Police, Elon University Student Conduct, Human Resources or filing a Title IX Report. They have the right to report in one or all of those avenues. They can also contact the Safeline and keep it confidential through the coordinators for violence response or counseling services.
Before choosing to report, Crystal was contacted frequently by the Safeline responder to remind her of the options. Though he was her friend and she knew there would be social repercussions that would affect both sides if she decided to report, Crystal chose to make her official statement on Sept. 16, 2016, through student conduct. She did so because according to the National Sexual Assault Violence Resource Center, about 60 percent of those who commit sexual assault are likely to do it again.
“Every time I was going through the process and I was tired and sad and didn’t want to do it anymore, the responder said, ‘Why did you choose to press charges in the first place?’” Crystal said. “I didn’t want this happen to another girl. I can’t let this happen again.”
According to the National Assault Hotline, females of ages 18-24 who have gone through sexual assault, do not report to law enforcement due to fear of reprisal, the belief that the police will not do anything to help, not wanting to get perpetrator in trouble, the belief that it was not important enough to report and the belief that it was a personal matter. Most students surveyed said they did not report due to other reasons.
Students Promoting Awareness, Responsibility, Knowledge, and Success (SPARKS) at Elon try to advocate for social justice and wellness. SPARKS peer educators such as senior Sara Blough mentioned that the reporting process can be traumatizing for someone who was just assaulted that day.
“We currently don’t live in a society that is welcoming to supporting survivors and still has victim blaming undertones,” Blough said.
Blough also mentioned that there is a lot of stigma and shame that only exists in society but also in police stations since there is a lot of victim blaming during the interrogation process.
Stepping into the Reporting Process
Randall Williams, director of student conduct, says that it is up to the student to decide if they want to report and press charges either through student conduct or campus police. Even if a student goes to student conduct to report, they are still reminded of resources available to them such as counseling or if they want to take the case to the police.
“What happens is that students have their choice. You don’t force a student to report to us,” Williams said. “We don’t force a student to go to the police. There are a lot of different avenues in which a person can report this information.”
Both Mitchell and Crystal carried out their case through student conduct. This office investigates under the standards that they follow. They take the information found to their Title IX coordinator and share what they have found to the respondent and defendant.
Williams believes a lot of students choose to report through student conduct because this office uses a lower standard of proof in holding someone accountable than when reported to the police. Students chose to report through student conduct because this civil system is more likely to find someone accountable for their actions and sanction them.
“We’re dealing with sanctions as it pertains to the university,” Williams said. “In a criminal process, it pertains to someone’s freedom.”
Under the student conduct investigation, both sides provide statements on what occurred on the night of the assault along with statements of witnesses.
In Crystal’s case, her perpetrator was found not guilty of non-penetrative sexual assault but found responsible for nonconsensual sexual intercourse and penetration. He had a one-year suspension, which he appealed under procedural error and then his sentence was reduced to six months.
Crystal’s case exceeded the 60-day timeframe on decision making under the Department of Education’s school’s obligations under Title IX. It took about 90 days for the decision on her case to be made. This frustrated Crystal. So did the perpetrator’s appeal, which was based on the fact that he had not been told the reasoning behind his sentence. According to Crystal, both parties received the same email and the reasoning behind the sentence was offered in the final report that the student conduct office offered to both.
“It’s very hard for me because I wanted him to be responsible for his actions,” Crystal said. “If he isn’t held responsible then it can occur again without any repercussions and that’s problematic, but I also didn’t want to ruin his life.”
In Mitchell’s case, McClendon was charged by the state in March 2014 for sexual battery and false imprisonment by the Town of Elon Police. In a May 15, 2014, Alford plea in which the defendant maintains innocence but admits the state can convict, the sexual battery charge was dropped and the sentencing for false imprisonment was dropped for two years.
Through student conduct, Mitchell’s case had a hearing to decide what would be the university’s decision regarding the case. McClendon was placed on preliminary suspension, a decision that frustrated Mitchell. She had asked the hearing board to suspend him for a semester.
“I felt everything was a slap in the face, I should have never reported. I should have never gone to the school,” Mitchell said. “Because at the end I took a loss. He didn’t take any Ls- no he got to stay on campus, he is still on the football team, he still started that following year.”
Though McClendon admitted to touching Mitchell without her consent, she did not understand why he did not get disciplined the way she had hoped.
“When is enough, enough? What does a woman have to go through for justice to really be served when it comes down to sexual assault or rape?” Mitchell said. “What are the qualifications for real justice for sexual assault and rape?”
Entering the healing process
Becca Bishopric Patterson, coordinator for health promotion, serves as an advocate for sexual assault survivors.
“There is no right or wrong or normal way to feel or heal after an assault and that’s going to look vastly different for many different people,” Patterson said.
The effects that come after the assault can affect a person’s physical, emotional and psychological aspects. A person’s personal, social, professional and academic responsibilities can be affected as well. Though every experience and its effects afterward are different, similarities exist within the reactions that survivors feel.
“It is devastating for both parties,” Williams said. “You’re bound to see changes in behavior, some students become depressed, some students have high anxiety or stress.”
After the assault, Mitchell had a hard time sleeping, did not do well in classes and did not have a desire to be around people. She recalls being scared and could not be alone. Though at some moments she wanted to leave Elon, she knew that if she had made that decision then she would know that her perpetrator would have won and that would have hurt her even more.
“I’ve done all the crying, the moping, the depression, the weight loss, the not eating. I would sometimes pee on myself at night,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t want to be around guys. I didn’t want anybody to touch me, to hug me.”
Seeing McClendon on campus made her uneasy, scared and nervous. Her family and friend support system along with her faith is what she believes helped her recover.
“I pushed through and I knew at some point through my faith I kept thinking, God, I have been through a lot I know you can get me through this,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell studied abroad in Australia the following Spring after the assault. She refers to Australia as her “healing place.” There she could find peace and the ability to be comfortable with herself and around others. Though she has not spoken to McClendon since the time of the incident, she said she used to pray for him and for his healing as well.
“Life is so short, it is not worth being depressed and sad over one thing that happened in your life,” Mitchell said.
Crystal still has not told her parents. She has made a conscious decision not to and says it is a cross she is willing to bear. After the assault, Crystal recalls having a difficult time being alone and reliving the experience. She went through withdrawal and had a lack of motivation. Despite having a cease contact order, which was issued by student conduct to prevent any communication with her perpetrator, there are aspects that she still recalls from him.
“It’s the small things that you don’t even think about,” Crystal said. “The way he talked, the way that he moved, you think you see him at the corner of your eye and it’s not him.”
The support from her friend system as well as from the coordinators for violence response has helped her through this process. She considers herself on the path to recovery.
“I am not back to normal because that won’t exist anymore,” Crystal said. “This is part of something that happened and this is part of who I am now, but it’s not all of who I am.”
Defining sexual assault
A problem exists within the definition of sexual assault.
The Elon University 2016-2017 student handbook defines sexual assault in two categories- non-consensual sexual contact and nonconsensual sexual intercourse. Sexual exploitation can be linked to the definition of sexual assault as well.
For Mitchell, a simple definition would be any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent.
Crystal would define sexual assault as an unwanted or unwarranted sexual advance. She acknowledges that people of all gender identities will have their own definition of this term since everyone’s views and experiences with sexual assault are different.
Leigh-Anne Royster, director of inclusive community well-being at Elon, said that though the definition of sexual assault not only varies between states but also between institutions it is also an umbrella term that can cover a lot of different offenses.
According to the 2015 Elon University Annual Fire and Crime Report, the North Carolina definition of sexual assault is “an offense that meets the definition of rape, fondling, incest, or statutory rape as used by the National Incident Based Reporting system. A sex offense is any act directed against another person, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent.”
“I think that sexual violence is such a severe epidemic with severe consequences for such a huge proportion of our population,” Royster said. “We don’t even consider it to be the same kind of issues as other epidemics that cause detrimental effects for folks. It is critical because it is largely ignored by much of our population.”
She recalled that when she began working at Elon 12 years ago, there had only been about one or two incidents of sexual assault reported. Once she began working to improve and add resources that could assist victims with the reporting and healing processes she saw the numbers steadily increase to 32 the following year after she arrived.
The percentage of sexual assault is not clear on college campuses due to the divide that exists between reported and unreported cases. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
Senior Emily Seligman and SPARKS peer educator said that the rates of people who experience sexual violence on Elon’s campus are comparable to the rates of national college statistics.
Addressing society’s stigmas
Since there is no normal healing process, Patterson believes that an aspect that consistently helps is that whomever the survivor confesses to the first time on the assault responds positively and is willing to help them, then the survivor may seek other resources. If that person responds in a way that blames the victim, the number of those survivors that will speak out and seek help drastically declines.
Crystal believes that victim blaming makes society easily wrap their head around the subject of sexual assault.
“I blamed myself when my friends didn’t blame me,” Crystal said. “The whole culture of victim blaming is so innate to both human nature in rationalizing these actions.”
Though Elon offers the HAVEN program for incoming first years, skits during orientation, speakers and events throughout the years, and many other resources, work still needs to be done to raise awareness and create an environment where survivors feel comfortable reporting according to Crystal.
“We have to continue to change the narrative of what sexual assault looks like,” Williams said. “There’s got to be deeper conversations about consent and college culture.”
Patterson, who works closely with the educational aspect of sexual assault and other issues on campus believes that the most powerful way to educate people is through peer to peer interactions. Through these interactions, people know how to respond and handle sexual assault incidents.
“The more student voices we have spreading the word all over campus, the better the culture is going to get,” Patterson said. “We’re all participating in this culture and we’re either participating or challenging it. We all have a responsibility in this.”
As Gabriela Rosales crossed the Williamson Avenue crosswalk on March 16, 2015, she was excited to attend her first meeting of the Eta Zeta chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha at Elon University. Instead, she was struck by a Toyota Camry that left her with a shattered skull and multiple fractured bones.
It was around dusk as she laid on the crosswalk. She heard the sound of sirens growing louder and her friends telling her everything was going to be OK.
“I was like estaba con pena [embarrassed] of what people would say about me,” Gabriela said. “I was like ‘What are people thinking about me?’”
Gabriela’s sister, Carmencita Rosales, said she had dreamt that something bad had occurred, and when she woke up to her phone blowing up with people asking her about her sister’s health.
As Gabriela was flown by helicopter to UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, her family that lives thousands of miles away in Managua, Nicaragua, was notified of what had occurred. Her parents dashed to the airport to find two seats left on the earliest flight to North Carolina.
“It changed the life for my whole family,” Carmencita said. “Gabby is my best friend. Since the accident, at first, I felt my best friend was gone.”
Before her parents arrived, Gabriela’s aunt and cousin, who lived in Raleigh, were notified about the incident. They were at UNC Health Care that night along with Sylvia Munoz, interim director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education. Gabriela’s close friends, Claudia Rodriguez and Sofia Wensel, were also at the hospital.
During that night, doctors said they couldn’t do surgery because of the injuries Gabriela’s brain had sustained. There were fractures on three parts of her skull. The Wednesday following the accident was one of the most critical days in Gabriela’s health, according to Munoz.
The doctors said procedure would be done where part of Gabriela’s skull had to be taken out to relieve the brain pressure. If they did not operate, they said she would die or remain in a vegetable-like state.
At 2 a.m. that Wednesday night, Gabriela’s brain pressure went down and stabilized. The doctors told her family that the surgery would no longer be done.
“The doctors insisted that medically they cannot explain why she woke up and why she was alive because, according to her injuries, she shouldn’t have been,” Munoz said.
Gabriela said she fell asleep and did not wake up until three weeks after being in a medically induced coma for about two weeks. Gabriela was in the intensive care unit for a fractured skull and a broken hip and right scapula.
Gabriela said that it was “amazing” to wake up to the sight of her mom by her bed.
“I tried talking to her, but I couldn’t,” Gabriela said. “I forgot how to talk.”
Gabriela could not speak, walk, read or feed herself. She was discharged from UNC Health Care in late April and was transferred to WakeMed and Health & Hospitals in Raleigh to receive speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Claudia Rodriguez, currently a senior at Elon and one of Gabriela’s closest friends, visited her numerous times and noticed her progress in a few months.
“We saw this gradual progress, and you could tell through the hope that her parents had, that her family and friends had, that she was gonna get better even though the doctors didn’t think it was a possible outcome,” Rodriguez said.
Therapy still underway
Gabriela recalls that the day she began to speak again through speech therapy, the doctors told her family they had a surprise for them. They placed a poster behind her bed that said: “Gabby started talking today.” Her first words were, “Mom, I love you.”
The improvements happened slowly, as the support Gabriela received from her family and the Elon community helped her with her recovery.
“Every day we would motivate Gabriela to keep going,” Carmencita said. “That is what kept her motivated.”
Munoz and Gabriela’s Elon friends visited her in both hospitals during her recovery.
Gabriela also began physical therapy, which required her to use a wheelchair. When she was placed in the wheelchair, Gabriela remembers that she did not want to return to Nicaragua and have people feel bad for her. The moment she stood up from her wheelchair hurt. Gabriela remembers saying to herself, “I am not gonna fall. I want to make them see that I can actually do it.”
Rodriguez always knew that Gabriela remained determined and hopeful throughout her recovery. She admires how Gabriela has gone through something so difficult that she said she could never imagine happening to herself. She recalls that despite the difficulties, Gabriela always kept smiling — from the moment they met to when she was in therapy.
“Seeing how they have stayed strong as a family and just as support for her and for each other really shows me that there’s not anything that we can’t go through that is going to be tough enough to put us down or have us stop because she showed me that you can literally do anything,” Rodriguez said.
Through months of therapy, Gabriela said she even learned to cook while at WakeMed. She also said that with her mother’s help and Facebook, she was able to remember names of friends and family that she might otherwise have forgotten.
Returning to the scene
Gabriela recalls asking her mother to take her to the scene of the accident to show her
where it had occurred and in what part of the crosswalk.
Rodriguez, who considers Gabriela a sister because of their friendship while they were together at Elon, said that seeing her on campus was a unique experience.
“She was so happy, you could see that Elon was where she wanted to be because she was so ecstatic to be here and see her friends, the faculty, her professors that she hadn’t seen in a long time,” Rodriguez said.
Life today and aspirations
On Oct. 27, 2015, Gabriela was discharged from WakeMed and allowed to return to her home in Managua. She arrived as a surprise for her younger sister Maria Fernanda’s 15th birthday.
Though no longer in the hospital, Gabriela continued different types of therapy. Through therapy with classical music, she could remember a lot of what she had forgotten, even the specific details of how the accident occurred.
She also picked up a passion for drawing. Gabriela has a book of all her sketches featuring Disney characters with inspirational quotes on each page.
Gabriela’s experiences at Elon encouraged Carmencita to apply to the university two years later. She was accepted and is currently a freshman.
“If it wasn’t because of Gabby, I wouldn’t be here at Elon,” Carmencita said. “Ever since I came here, I had this feeling that my sister is always here with me.”
Carmencita believes that a part of her sister is with her at Elon. Their relationship has grown stronger since the accident and Carmencita is glad to get to know the little things such as friends and memories that her sister had at Elon.
With hopes of returning to Elon as a full-time student, Gabriela is currently a student at Universidad Americana in Managua. She is studying marketing with a minor in business administration.
“I will keep going until I get back to Elon,” Gabriela said. “It would be amazing to get back.”
Gabriela has returned to Elon multiple times to visit friends such as Rodriguez and now her sister.
“She really wants to just be here and have the normal life of taking the classes and having her friends, living here,” Rodriguez said. “She’s pushing for that, that’s what she’s working toward.”
Gabriela will have her two-year checkup at WakeMed on April 10 and 17 this spring. During these appointments, the doctors will confirm whether she will be able to return to Elon next fall.
“My hopes are for her to be back at Elon,” Carmencita said. “She’s ready to have her life back. She felt like her wings were cut, but she’s building them up again.”
Opening rehabilitation center
Gabriela has big plans in mind after graduation. She wants to study physical therapy and open her own rehabilitation center in Nicaragua. She wants it to be called “Miracle,” and the motto, “Si, se puede,” which means, “You can do it.”
Gabriela said that she has grown as a person and learned to appreciate what really matters in life in the past two years. She said that she has learned the meaning of goodness and helping others.
“If you’re a good person, good things happen to you, and I think good things have happened to me,” Gabriela said.
Carmencita said that other patients in Nicaragua have noticed her sister’s improvements and work in therapy.
“She inspired others with her work,” Carmencita said. “The work she’s done is showing to other kids, that, ‘You can also do it.’”
Carmencita believes that her sister’s purpose in life is to open the rehabilitation center because having personal experiences with therapy can help her connect with other patients. Gabriela wants her story of recovery to be an example for many others.
“I want to show people that you can do it,” Gabriela said. “Yes, it was hard at first, but you can overcome it.”