UPDATE: College of Communication dean has arrived in Cagli to support students and faculty.
by Allison Kruschke and Pat Simonaitis
Two Marquette students participating in the Digital Storytelling in Cagli, Italy study abroad program were allegedly the victims of two sexual assaults between May 25 and June 9, according to an email sent to the parents of students in the program and obtained by the Tribune June 9.
William Thorn, a Marquette associate professor of journalism and director of the Cagli program, said both victims were female and that the Office of International Education and the American embassy in Italy were notified as soon as Marquette faculty learned of the incidents.
Both cases allegedly involved non-Marquette-affiliated acquaintances of the victims and occurred at a private bar in Cagli, according to the email, which was sent by Marquette Office of International Education Director Terence Miller on June 8.
Thorn said the first incident did not warrant medical attention, but the second incident required a full medical examination, which was provided to the student as soon as was possible.
In the email, Miller said students have been “expressly forbidden” from returning to the bar where the incidents allegedly occurred. The email also stated that Italian police have been notified and are investigating the incidents.
Thorn added that he met June 9 with the mayor and vice mayor of Cagli, who oversee local police. He said that Italian authorities have been “incredibly cooperative” and have noted that these are the first incidents of this nature in the 14-year history of the program and its predecessor, which was run by another university.
A meeting was called June 8 at 8:30 p.m. Central European Summer Time (1:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time) for faculty, student assistants and students involved in the program, in which students were informed of the alleged assaults, according to a student who attended the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
According to the email, students were notified of the incidents when Marquette faculty members leading the program learned of them. Since then, students have been advised to continue practicing “personal security measures, including walking in pairs and being aware of their surroundings.”
Students have also been offered counseling and reimbursement for travel expenses should they wish to return early from the program, according to the student, who added that no students have thus far returned home. Faculty members and students arrived in Italy on May 25 and are scheduled to return to the U.S. on June 21.
According to a second email sent on June 14 from Miller to parents of the students and obtained by the Tribune, College of Communication Dean Lori Bergen arrived in Cagli June 14 to “provide both further support and guidance” for students there. The email stated that Bergen planned to meet with the students as a group and would also offer to meet with them individually.
The second email further stated that Marquette is providing a counselor for additional support, who was scheduled to arrive in Cagli Sunday.
Senior Director of University Communication Brian Dorrington confirmed the information in Miller’s first email and added that the Department of Public Safety, the Office of the Provost and the Division of Student Affairs were notified of the incidents as soon as the university learned of them.
Dorrington said the university first learned of both incidents the week of June 4. Students were advised June 2 to avoid the bar in question, however, and were made aware June 4 of one alleged sexual assault and asked to sign a letter stating their awareness, according to Thorn. The student said it was not made clear at the time whether the alleged incident had involved a Marquette student.
Prior to leaving home, students received an information packet outlining certain safety guidelines. They also were required to complete an online orientation program.
The incidents come a year after the reported May 2011 rape of a student participating in Marquette’s South Africa Service Learning program. That situation led to some questions as to whether Marquette has adequately addressed safety concerns for students studying abroad.
Dorrington declined to comment on the severity of the alleged assaults in Cagli or what implications the incidents may have for the program’s future.