Think Out Loud

UO failed to alert students of campus druggings in a timely manner

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
April 18, 2024 11:23 p.m. Updated: April 30, 2024 8:24 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, April 23

Records show that since the beginning of this year, there have been 9 druggings of University of Oregon students, and the university failed to alert students about what was happening, violating their own protocols. These incidents were potentially linked to fraternity parties. That’s according to a new story from Eugene Weekly. We’re joined by reporter Eliza Aronson, who is also a UO senior studying Journalism and Marine Biology.


Note: This transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller:  From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, This is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. According to recent reporting from Eugene Weekly, at least nine University of Oregon students were drugged at fraternity parties since the beginning of this year. What’s more, the paper found that the university failed to alert students about what was happening, violating their own protocols. Eliza Aronson is a senior at the University of Oregon, studying Journalism and Marine Biology. She’s been covering this issue as an intern for Eugene Weekly, and she joins us now. Eliza, welcome.

Eliza Aronson:  Hi, Dave. Thanks so much for having me.

Miller:  Thanks for joining us. Let’s start with the first incident that folks have been writing about. What have you been able to learn about what happened on January 19th?

AronsonThis incident actually wasn’t the first incident to happen, but this is the one that we have a UO Police Department notification form about. So what we know from that event is that the Eugene Police Department responded to two female students who were reportedly out of it outside an unknown fraternity that night. The boyfriends of the two women were contacted and they took them to a private residence, where EPD and medical assistance showed up. Those two women were then transferred to McKenzie Willamette Medical Center for further treatment. And so basically what we know is that the Eugene Police Department responded initially and then the next morning called the U of O Police Department and notified them of the event.

Miller:  What have you been able to learn about other alleged incidents?

AronsonSo the only other incident where I have information on really is the one that happened at a Phi Delta live out. I think that happened in early February, and the information that I have from this event is because of other student reporting and interviews that other student publications have done. So this event happened at a live out, which is basically a private residence where fraternity or, in other instances, sorority members own a private residence or rent out a private residence. But it’s all chapter members that live there.

And so two freshmen women went to a party. Someone who they trusted, at the time, gave them a drink, and the quote that we used was, ‘it was only half, it was less than half a solo cup.’ So not a lot of alcohol but within 30 or so minutes, the women were throwing up and super dizzy. Thankfully, they had a third friend who was able to get them both home safely. But they woke up the next morning still really sick. And so that’s the only incident that I know about. We reported about that and the coverage of that in my first story, Blackout, which came out, I think a month before this most recent story.

Miller:  Just to take a step back, are there any estimates of the prevalence of these kinds of druggings on college campuses around the country?

AronsonWhen I was writing out the story, I wanted that statistic and I was looking for it. But it’s really actually kind of hard to find a perfect cut and dry statistic of that. One, if you’ve read my previous coverage, you know that the UO Health Center doesn’t have drug tests for Rohypnol, which is often used for druggings. Rohypnol is tasteless, it’s odorless, and it leaves the body within 72 hours. The hospital in River Bend also doesn’t have tests for Rohypnol. So it’s really hard for students to figure out if they’d been drugged or not, to get that confirmation and clarification. So I haven’t been able to find a perfect statistic to cover that. A couple of years ago, there was survey data of around 6,000 students at three universities. They found that more than one in 13 students have been reported to have been drugged. Realistically, I’m not too sure of how prevalent this is.

Miller:  You pointed out in your articles that drugging somebody without their knowledge is a felony in Oregon. But it seemed like you got the runaround when you asked Eugene police and University police about this. What happened?

AronsonOriginally, from student reporting about the Phi Delta live out incident, I was told that the two women had filed a Eugene Police report. So I reached out to them and they immediately referred me to UO Communications. When I asked why, they said that the UO Police Department was covering the incident and investigating. Then I reached out to the UO Police Department. And when I spoke to them, they said they had no idea about any reports and they weren’t investigating. After I published that first story, it came out that, in fact, the Eugene Police Department was indeed investigating that incident. The Daily Emerald, which is the student-run newspaper, broke that story.

Miller:  What are universities required to do in terms of disclosure for these kinds of incidents under federal law?

AronsonThe federal law that covers all of this is called the Clery Act. One of the requirements of the Clery Act is that universities keep a daily crime log. And basically anyone from the public can access these records and see what crimes are being reported and where they happened, in locations either on campus or around or surrounding the campus. The requirement is that these logs are kept up to date. And just because something is in the log, they’re not required to investigate. But it should be that you should be able to go on the log and see an incident and know where it happened and when it happened.

Miller:  Did the university do that?

AronsonNo. When we look at the logs, there is one incident of ingesting substances without knowing that you were ingesting substances and that was on January 15th. However, the location is listed at Unthank Hall which is a dorm on campus. And that’s not actually where the drugging happened. That’s just where it was reported. And that’s not how it should be. It’s useless to have a crime listed where it didn’t happen. But the rest of the drugging incidences do not show up in the logs.

Miller:  We reached out to the University in advance of this conversation. They sent us a long statement. I wanna read part of it here. “The university”, they wrote, “took the reports of alleged drugging seriously. Our Office of Student Conduct issued an interim suspension that ceased all operations of the organizations connected with the reports, including social events. We then publicized information about each suspension on our website and shared information through various channels including with the fraternity and sorority life community. The reports were also shared with the UO Interfraternity Council which elected to issue a moratorium on alcohol at social events. No additional reports of druggings have been received.”

What’s your response to that paragraph?

AronsonSo I guess first off, the website they’re referring to is a chapter status website basically where they will show all the different fraternity and sorority chapters on campus and if they’re suspended or not. And on that website, the only information they have posted is that these three fraternities, Delta Sigma Phi, Phi Delta Theta and Theta Chi, are under interim suspension. So if you go on that website, you can see that these fraternities are under suspension, but it gives no indication of why they are suspended. So nowhere on that page is it saying that these fraternities are under suspension for alleged druggings.


Miller:  So when they say, ‘we then publicized information about each suspension on our website,’ you’re saying but that didn’t include the reasons for those suspensions and it could have been any kind of behavior infraction?

AronsonRight, so when you look at this website, it’s just saying the day of action and action taken, interim suspension. So there’s no details about why the suspension happened.

Miller:  How long was it from the time that the University had credible information about alleged druggings, a series of them, to when they said anything to the broader student community about these reports?

AronsonAs a student, we got a spring campus advisory email. And I think I counted the days, that was 94 days after the first incident of druggings. And so this email came out to us and it had information about making sure you lock your bikes up and making sure you charge your phone before going out. And that was 94 days after the first drugging. And actually, in comparison, I think yesterday, we actually got a timely warning notification of a literal dumpster fire. And that shows up in our emails as ‘UO timely warning’ and says ‘Eugene fire.’ That went out, that timely warning about a fire in a dumpster that happened I think, early morning and we got that within 24 hours.

Miller:  But it took them almost 100 days to say, explicitly, that there had been reports of druggings of students.

AronsonYes. Correct.

Miller: And am I right that that was after you, as a journalist, had submitted questions to them and it was clear that this was going to become a bigger story?

AronsonYeah, so I got that email of the spring advisory, I think, three days after I sent the U of O a number of questions about what action they had taken. And the UO Communications woman I was speaking to pointed out, and she must have looked me up because she says, ‘as a student, you should have received this email.’ And I then was like, ‘yeah, let’s count the days of how long I had to wait for this email.’

Miller:  What are the various ways that the University defended its months-long silence?

AronsonThe first thing they told me was, in an email UO Communications spokesperson Angela Seydel said, that drugging itself is not a clearly reportable crime. And that’s not true, stated in the federal law. And that’s not true, actually, what the UO defines. And then their next argument was that all these incidences happened outside Clerys reportable geography. The Clery Act covers anything on actual campus. But then it also covers specific locations outside of campus called off-campus geography. That counts anything that is run by a student organization. So that counts as fraternity chapter houses. They said none of those incidents happened at fraternity houses, they happened at live outs.

I have a text from Eric Howald, who is also from UO Communications, saying directly that all the incidents happened at live outs, making them not within Clery geography. They also said that they did education and outreach with fraternity members. And then the last statement they sent me was that sending out a warning may mislead people to believe that campuses are less safe than they actually are, may provoke panic, and may reinforce racial stereotypes. The statement they sent me also said additionally, these notifications may be perceived as victim blaming, can expose the identity of victims who report crime, trigger retaliation, re-traumatize victims of past crime, and cause chilling effects on crime reporting.

So, basically, they’re saying that sending out a timely warning would have had negative effects and caused all of these effects. So they constantly kept telling me things, excuses, why they didn’t send out these timely warnings.

Miller:  I want to run one more quote by you from the statement that they gave us. They said this. “We reject the assertion made by Ms. Aronson that the University was untruthful in the

information it provided and are disappointed that the Eugene Weekly article selectively quotes, omits, and misrepresents aspects of the University’s response.”

What is your response to that?

AronsonMy response is, I’ve been sending so many emails and phone calls with the U of O. I would have had to work really hard to change the story that they were giving me. I don’t want to be reporting this story. This is my school. And it’s unfortunate that I’m having to report about the bad decisions that they’re making. I would much rather not be writing this story. But they’re giving me no choice. I want my school to be protecting us and to be doing the right thing. And they’re not.

Miller:  Just briefly, you also point out that even the interim suspensions of some fraternity activities were not as strong as they might seem. What do you mean?

AronsonBasically the interim suspension there, the fraternities aren’t supposed to be able to hold sponsored activities. And they’ve lost privileges with the University. But The Daily Emerald broke on April 3rd, that the Associate Dean of Students has been lifting sanctions to accommodate events sponsored by the fraternities.

So they’re able to hold Dad’s Weekends and they’re also able to do new member recruitment, hold, I think, chapter executive meetings. And I think one email we got showed that the Associate Dean of Students was even considering letting one of the fraternities have their formal event. So there are so many exceptions that are being allowed on these interim suspensions that they don’t really feel like true suspensions and true consequences.

Miller:  Eliza, thanks very much.

AronsonThank you.

Miller:  Eliza Aronson is an intern right now at The Eugene Weekly. She is a senior at the University of Oregon, studying Marine Biology and Journalism.

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