There's something weird happening at Occidental College. In the midst of the investigation into the school's potential mishandling of sexual assault cases, students and faculty members say that strange things have been happening to them, including office break-ins and alleged phone and computer hacks.
Two weeks ago, reporter James Felch was fired from his job at the Los Angeles Times for engaging in an inappropriate relationship with the main source of his reporting on the Department of Education investigation of Occidental. At the same time, Occidental said that he'd overstated the number of sexual assaults that had occurred on their campus. But as Felch elaborated to Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, both Occidental and the LA Times were not forthright with him about what, if anything, was inaccurate, and did not allow him the opportunity to fix any inaccuracies that needed to be fixed.
It turns out that Felch's source is a faculty member at Occidental, who, along with others, spoke with BuzzFeed's Jessica Testa for a lengthy piece that makes Occidental seem like an all-together unsafe place to be for those who have been outspoken about issues with the administration's handling of sexual assault. Students and faculty members have lost their jobs or been reassigned to new positions. They've had their offices broken into; stuff has been damaged, important papers have been read. Documents have been deleted from computers. Felch's source now uses a burner phone and other staff members believe their emails are being read by the college, which the school denies. The Title IX complaint filed with the DOE includes 17 instances of retaliation noted.
Though the college administration denies that they are in any way involved with retaliatory practices, the PR firm they've hired has connections, bizarrely, to one of Felch's former co-workers with whom he had a falling out. "It looks like we hired a firm that had somebody who could find a way of discrediting [Felch] and ruining his career," one staff member told BuzzFeed.
Whether or not the office break-ins and technology hacks are happening at the hands of the administration, other faculty members or overzealous students, it is clear that the administration is on the offensive. A year ago, Occidental college president Jonathan Veitch emailed the campus complaining about "a number of well-intentioned people [who] have chosen to cast our motives into doubt; vilify dedicated, hard-working members of Student Affairs; question the sincerity of our response; and actively sought to embarrass the College on the evening news." Though he apologized for the email with another email two weeks later, his statements and the statements of Occidental's Director of Communications make it clear that they are unhappy with the fact that the school's issues aren't being handled "internally," in Veitch's words. At a staff meeting recently, Veitch told faculty that the sexual assault investigation was "a reputational concern for all of us."
So the latest at Occidental is as follows: not only are its students unsupported by the administration, its teachers are too. Though it would take a great deal of evidence to prove that the college is actively working to stifle the voices of its loudest critics, it's clear they wish those critics would shut up. At Occidental, it seems that even if you haven't personally been sexually assaulted, you're still won't get the help you need.
Image via Meg Stewart/Flickr