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In the Fray

The party’s over at the College of Santa Fe

December 10, 2008, 12:00 am

Given that CSF has no functioning student government and no campus newspaper, you’d expect administrators would find it easy to control the information coming out of campus. In the age of Facebook, however, that may not be possible.

A graphic—make that horrific—account of the alleged rape, which occurred in August, can be found in a Facebook group created weeks later to support the victim. She writes that after drinking with a fellow student, watching a movie and giving him a massage, he overpowered her, raped her vaginally and anally as she kicked him and finally bit his thigh.

The victim, who has since transferred to another school, waited 10 days before reporting the incident, and only then filed for sexual harassment, not rape. She writes, although Dean Fitzpatrick put a restraining order on her alleged assailant, she is “dumbfounded” with how the college handled her case.

“The Dean found my case ‘inconclusive’ and brought the accused back on campus but with ‘restrictions,’” the accuser writes. Further, she claims, Fitzpatrick’s failure to “specifically inform” her of her right to report the incident to police may have hindered their ability to gather physical evidence.

A police report filed Sept. 11 says simply, “A female reported that she was sexually assaulted at the College of Santa Fe.” The case remains open.

CSF MeetingCSF’s vice president for administration and communications, Marcia Sullivan, offers a brief response: “The college will not comment on this situation as it affects the privacy of our students.”

Realistically, that privacy is gone. The Facebook group with the rape allegations had 124 members as of last week—a sizable share of the 615 undergraduates enrolled this semester.

Kerner says there has been “a lot of talk” about the alleged rape—except from the administration. “They kind of shut it down,” Kerner says.

“I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with the police presence on campus, if somebody had been raped,” Lester says of the incident. “But that’s not why they’re on campus.”

The sexual violence, combined with the growing tally of police confrontations and dark rumors about the college’s debt, made the fall semester a grim one.

“It’s a tough time, and it’s really hard to say what the cause of it is,” Zerkin, the student trustee, says. “Mercury’s in retrograde—I don’t know.”

While their communications with outsiders lacked urgency, internally, administrators knew the deepening student anxieties demanded a response. CSF’s debts weren’t going away and neither were the police.
A few days after Kerner’s arrest, officers began handing out hundreds of dollars in parking tickets on their late-night patrols of the campus. Though the police were within their rights, this struck some students as unfair, given that the college is private property.

On Oct. 9, CSF Security Director James Ardis sent a campus-wide e-mail to address concerns about the police.

“While a surprise to us that these [handicapped parking] tickets were issued, the police do have jurisdiction,” Ardis writes. “Since the start of this semester, we have seen an increase in police presence on campus…We have also witnessed an increase in vehicle patrols through the campus from entrance to entrance.

Ardis also tries to clear up “misunderstandings” about the police’s ability to enforce the law on campus. He writes, “In reviewing recent incidents involving Santa Fe Police, we have found no evidence that any student’s Fourth Amendment rights have been violated on campus.”

Ardis also offers students a word of advice: “Common sense can be a valuable tool in avoiding negative incidents.”

Given the mood in the dorms, that was good advice.

Common sense would rule out yelling, “Fuck you, bacon!” at a patrol car as it rolled through campus at night, as a group of students are rumored to have done last month, prompting an officer to follow them inside the dorms. (None of the students said to be involved returned SFR’s calls.)

Common sense also would dictate heeding an officer’s order to stop.

Ben Plaza mugshotOn Oct. 22, Ben Plaza, a 20-year-old sophomore music major with long blonde hair, was walking past his dorm with a visiting friend. They had been drinking vodka. Plaza says they sat down in the street because they were tired. Officer Christopher McCord—who helped issue citations at Kerner’s party—reported that Plaza and his friend were “playing chicken” with traffic.

Plaza saw three patrol cars drive by; McCord yelled for them to stop, but Plaza says, “I think we walked for maybe 10 more seconds.”

That was probably a mistake. Officers gave chase and “bent me over and threw me down on the curb,” Plaza says. “They didn’t give us a breathalyzer test or anything.”

Charged with underage drinking, Plaza and his friend spent the night in jail. In his mind, that was punishment enough.

Before the police patrols increased their presence on campus, he believes he wouldn’t even have gotten arrested.

The college, of course, bans underage drinking—along with of-age drinking in public areas. The student handbook says students may enter a treatment program “as a total or partial alternative to disciplinary action.”

The handbook does not say, “We’ll call the cops on you.”

In fact, it suggests that students should not be subjected to the judicial system, noting that “the disciplinary procedures of the College are not identical to procedures in criminal or civil cases but are, instead, designed to assure fundamental fairness so that students will be protected from any arbitrary or capricious disciplinary action.”

At his arraignment, Plaza says, the judge “seemed like he thought it was kind of ridiculous that we were in there, too.”

And, Plaza says: “I think campus security is even more unhappy about the cops being here, because this is their turf. They can handle it themselves.”

Maybe so. It’s not like CSF is a giant, Jell-O-shot-swilling, run-riot-at-homecoming State U. As of Dec. 1, the college had issued 81 internal sanctions for alcohol or drug violations in the fall semester, according to Dean Fitzpatrick. That’s not a big increase from Fall 2007, which had 76 sanctions.

This system seemed to suit everyone fine—except for the SFPD. Effective or not, campus security—by definition—doesn’t concern itself with off-campus parties like Karla Kerner’s.

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