By Allison Kruschke and Pat Simonaitis
The Marquette community was shaken this summer by its third high profile sexual assault incident in two years when two students were allegedly assaulted while on a Marquette-sponsored study abroad program in Cagli, Italy.
The assaults occurred between May 25 and June 9 while students were participating in a digital storytelling program through the College of Communication. According to William Thorn, an associate professor of journalism and the program’s director, both cases involved female Marquette student victims and known, non-Marquette affiliated acquaintances and occurred at a local restaurant and bar.
Upon learning of the assaults, administrators in charge of the trip took immediate action, including informing parents of all the students on the trip of the allegations and placing a restriction on where students on the trip were allowed to go within the town. Additionally, College of Communication Dean Lori Bergen traveled to Cagli to evaluate the program’s safety and its future.
Marquette worked closely with Italian authorities and offered to reimburse any student wishing to return to the U.S. before the official end of the trip. Counseling services became available on-site for students on June 16.
According to a June 14 email from Terence Miller, the director of the Office of International Education, to the parents of students on the trip, Italian officials also temporarily closed the establishment where the alleged incidents took place.
A student who attended the program and spoke on the condition of anonymity said that after the first assault occurred, participants were informed that an assault had taken place and asked to sign a document confirming their awareness, though it was not made clear whether the incident specifically involved a Marquette student.
While university admininstrators took steps immediately after learning of the alleged assaults this summer, Marquette has been questioned in recent history on its record when it comes to situations involving sexual assault — both on and off campus.
Such questioning of Marquette came to a head in late 2010 and throughout 2011, coinciding with a series of Chicago Tribune articles detailing Marquette’s non-compliance with Wisconsin law in its failure to immediately notify police after learning of alleged sexual assaults on campus committed by several student athletes. A federal investigation of the situation by the Department of Education began in November 2011.
On May 13, 2011, a student participating in a Marquette-sponsored service learning program in South Africa was raped in an alley just outside housing provided by the university. That incident resulted in criticism of the university’s response and a push from a former participant to improve the program’s security.
A Feb. 28 Tribune article stated that after the incident was reported, the extra safety precautions taken included instating a temporary security guard, who was removed after that group of students left. A new security camera was also installed in the alley where the incident allegedly occurred.
The security guard’s removal prompted an alumna of the program, Molly Arenberg, to push the university to install a permanent security guard outside the home where students participating in the Marquette program live. She argued that normal security measures such as security cameras and walking in pairs were not enough.
Arenberg’s efforts received mixed reactions from this year’s students partipcating in the program, who told the Tribune through a spokesperson in February that they felt safe in their home in South Africa.
“Marquette told them that the buddy system is enough, and as students with faith in their program, they agreed,” Arenberg said in a previous interview with the Tribune. “This is another reason why I am concerned not just about the product, but the process of Marquette taking appropriate action.”
Nick Biggi also contributed reporting.