Recent Title IX Investigation Prompts Closer Look Into PLNU’s Resources for Victims of Sexual Misconduct

In Featured, Latest News, News by Andrew Eakes

When former Point Loma Nazarene University student Amy McClanahan went to her then PLNU professor and Mid City Church of the Nazarene pastor, John Wright, seeking help with issues that she said were related to childhood sexual trauma, she was following university protocol.

Wright also followed the appropriate steps when he went to PLNU’s Wellness Center and other faculty on campus, seeking assistance for McClanahan.  

Neither Wright nor McClanahan found what they were looking for.

What became of an initial mentor-mentee agreement ended in a year-long sexual relationship, two lawsuits, a Title IX investigation, public media coverage of the lawsuits and the termination of Wright from PLNU.

PLNU’s Sexual Harassment Policy states, “The university is committed to maintaining an environment that is free from sexual harassment. In keeping with this commitment, we do not tolerate sexual harassment by anyone, including students, faculty, staff, or vendors of the university.”

The Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education defines sexual harassment in accordance with Title IX Education Amendments of 1972. “Verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, imposed on the basis of sex, by an employee or agent of a recipient that denies, limits, provides different, or conditions the provision of aid, benefits, services, or treatment protected under Title IX,” their website states.

According to PLNU’s Title IX website, if  students feel they are a victim of sexual assault they can either report the incident anonymously through Silent Whistle (a third-party source), or to a professor which McClanahan chose to do in 2014 when she initially contacted Wright about her past.

Dr. Caye Smith, Vice President for Student Development and PLNU’s Title IX coordinator told The Point that there was a “huge increase” in sexual assault reporting by students this year alone. She says that Silent Whistle is an outdated program, and advises students to either go to a faculty member or directly to her office.

PLNU’s Title IX website also says that if a student reports sexual assault to a professor, it must be reported by the professor to “their supervisor or senior management in accordance with such other relevant policies of PLNU as may be applicable.”

Wright made attempts to find help for McClanahan through the PLNU’s Wellness Center and other faculty. According to information obtained by The Point, he was unable to find any resources or guidance for McClanahan through the school.  

The Point asked Smith about details related to Wright and McClanahan’s Title IX investigation, but she declined to comment on any specific person or incident.

PLNU’s Title IX website also claims that “all PLNU faculty and staff are considered ‘responsible employees,’ meaning they can direct you to the appropriate resources.” Smith says that a “responsible employee” is one who files a report with the school after a student approaches them.

All PLNU Faculty and Staff are annually required to complete a 45-minute online training course through the university in “the appropriate response and reporting of gender-based misconduct.” Smith says that the school has done sexual harassment training for years, but a new training program was implemented two years ago which is specific to “Title IX related sexual misconduct training.”

This training was not available to Wright when McClanahan first contacted him in 2014. Smith says that she is confident that the new required training puts university faculty and staff in a better position to respond.

The state of California also requires employers with 50 or more employees to offer two hours of sexual harassment training every two years to each supervisory employee, and to any new supervisory employees. PLNU fits this category and complies.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you have rights. PLNU will issue a “no-contact” mandate and offers the opportunity for students to reschedule their classes or take time off from school, if necessary.

The Point learned that McClanahan took a leave of absence for a semester, and that both she and Wright were issued “no-contact” mandates. This prevented Wright from being on campus starting at the halfway point during the fall semester of 2017, according to information obtained by The Point.

“We care about students who have been victims of sexual misconduct,” said Smith. “We also care about faculty or staff who have been accused of sexual misconduct. We desire to respond to both groups of people in a fair and equitable manner.”

Smith says that anyone seeking healing related to sexual trauma should get counseling from the Wellness Center.

The Point searched PLNU’s Wellness Center website to see what resources are offered to students who experience sexual assaults and related trauma. The Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 4:00 p.m.

Their website states. “Our priority is to assist students in maintaining a high level of health and wellness as they accomplish their educational, personal, spiritual and career goals. We provide services to all undergraduate students registered for classes on the main PLNU campus.”

The Wellness Center offers counseling services where they address “crisis intervention, training and educational workshops, individual counseling, disability life skills coaching and referrals to local practitioners,” according to the website. There are no licensed psychologists or psychiatrists within PLNU’s Wellness Center, only licensed marriage and family counselors.  

According to the statement above, the Wellness Center should have referred McClanahan to off campus treatment if they felt unable to provide proper care at Wright’s request. According to information obtained by The Point, this did not happen.

The Point made multiple attempts to get in contact with the Wellness Center and Kim Bogan, PLNU’s Associate Dean of Student Success and Wellness, via email and in person. They repeatedly declined to comment.

The Point was not able to find any training or educational workshops offered by the Wellness Center this semester or in the past, or information on how to set one up.  The Wellness Center’s website offers one link related to sexual assault called WastedSex.com. This website features content on sexual assault related to drinking or the use of drugs, but not on ongoing sexual assault or sexual assault that occurred in the past, like McClanahan’s.

The University of San Diego, a faith-based school just a few miles from PLNU’s main campus, takes a different approach with its Wellness Center. They are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. On Wednesdays they are open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m..

Their website states, “The University of San Diego places great importance on providing students with the programs, experiences and support services necessary to help them maximize their educational experience, and to challenge them to develop knowledge, values and skills to enrich their lives.”

USD has four staff psychologists, one psychiatrist, one psychiatric nurse and one student counselor on staff.

They offer programs that provide resources for trauma related to sexual assault including Campus Recreation,  the Counseling Center, the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion, the Disability and Learning Difference Resource Center, the Student Health Center, and the Women’s Center.

USD implemented a program called “Campus Assault Resources & Education” (CARE) that offers information for victims of sexual assault including how to report, who to go to, and where to get counseling. This provides different resources for people experiencing recent, on-going and past sexual assault trauma. CARE includes information for friends and professors on what to remember when seeking help for sexual assault survivors on their website as well.

At USD, the Women’s Center specializes in preventing sexual assault. Their website offers links to set up educational and training workshops through USD’s Peer Educator Program.

Peer Educators is a student organization, led by USD faculty supervisor Amanda Luckett, dedicated to “educating students about healthy relationships, creating conversations about gender roles and socialization, and shifting cultural norms that perpetuate sexual and dating violence on campus.”

Luckett declined the Point’s request for an interview.

Peer Educators at USD participate in weekly training throughout the semester. “The role requires an average of four to six hours of work per week including but not limited to outreach, marketing, peer advising, peer facilitation, presenting, tabling and administrative tasks,” their website states.

The Wright and McClanahan scandal took PLNU by storm when the story became public in February. Since then the university has yet to state or confirm any specifics about this case, only that appropriate actions were taken according to Title IX protocol.

In a campus-wide email sent on February 6, PLNU President Bob Brower said, “As a university we are prohibited from disclosing the names of individuals involved or the facts of the case, but this does not mean that we must be silent about the grief that the situation has brought to many.”

Since then, the school promoted the #metoo movement by holding a documentary screening, followed by a panel discussion called, “#MeToo, Now What?”, as well as an all-male faculty meeting.  While the documentary and panel discussion talked about sexual assault in general, neither Wright nor McClanahan were mentioned.

PLNU Literature Professor Dr. Bettina Tate Pedersen was an invited panelist of the #MeToo event and was asked to answer questions that students or faculty brought up. She explained to The Point why Wright and McClanahan were not mentioned.

“At that point in time, the faculty were still careful about what Brower said in an email about not using names or particulars involved with the Title IX situation,” said Pedersen. “It was understood that this was why we were having it [the panel discussion].”

Pedersen also said there is a co-ed faculty reading group that meets every Friday. A group of six to 15 faculty, staff and others read and discuss “Facing Challenges: Feminism in Christian Higher Education and Other Places,” a book co-written by Pedersen and author Allyson Jule. She noted that meetings began at the beginning of the semester, before the Wright and McClanahan scandal broke.

“Men attending these sessions have asked very open and direct questions of the women attending about the women’s experience as professionals here at PLNU and elsewhere prior to coming to PLNU,” said Pedersen in an email with The Point.

The all-male faculty meeting was facilitated March 16 by the director of the Center for International Development Rob Gailey, psychology professor Ross Oakes-Mueller and the director of community life Jake Gilbertson in a meeting called by the university’s Faculty Council.

A member of the Point staff asked if he could attend the meeting, but Oakes-Mueller and Gailey declined his request.

Without saying what occurred in that meeting, PLNU’s Public Affairs Director, Jill Monroe, said that she thought the meeting was proper.  

“Having an opportunity where our male faculty felt safe to come together and just talk is important,” Monroe said. “I think it was perfectly appropriate. As a woman, I didn’t feel in anyway excluded.”

The school’s cabinet was not invited to the meeting, Gailey said, so that male faculty would be able to speak more freely. Gailey told The Point that the Human Resources Director Jeff Herman was invited, but Herman declined the invitation because he felt “people might not feel comfortable.”  

“Part of the meeting was that we wanted to create a safe space for people. We said that what we would discuss wouldn’t be made public,” said Gailey in an interview with The Point after the meeting took place. “The reason why we had an all-male opportunity was so that people could ask questions and not feel accused or threatened, or that they would undermine their position here. To say anything outside of that circle would not be helpful.”

Gailey stated that he would not share topics discussed during the meeting but noted that six to eight questions were raised on matters related to meeting with students alone and engaging with female colleagues. He would not say how many faculty members attended the meeting, but said not all male faculty were in attendance.

“I think some of the female colleagues were particularly suggesting that we also talk about how men should just hear their stories,” said Gailey. “I think a lot of times men are often not aware that the things they say or do could cause offense or uncomfortableness.”

Both lawsuits involving McClanahan and Wright are scheduled to go to court on June 29. In McClanahan’s case, The Mid City Church of the Nazarene filed a demurrer on March 2 to remove their name from the lawsuit. The court will decide on this motion to strike June 1.

McClanahan accused Wright of sexual assault and rape in a lawsuit on Jan. 16, 2018. She says that Wright manipulated her into an intimate relationship in order to heal her past trauma with “sexual healing.” She also accused 20 unnamed defendants related to the Mid-City Church of the Nazarene of being aware of and authorizing the acts of Wright during the course of their relationship.

In a countersuit from the same day (Jan 16, 2018), Wright accused McClanahan of harassment toward him and his wife Kathy Wright through social media. Wright also claims that McClanahan vandalized his cars and caused a disturbance on Dec. 25, 2017 after showing up at the Mid City Church of the Nazarene multi-congregational Christmas service and “verbally attacking and threatening K.W. (Kathy Wright),” Wright’s lawsuit said. Wright filed a temporary restraining order on McClanahan on Dec. 26, 2017.

As the #MeToo movement continues, hushed whispers and empty offices will be a brash reminder that more women are coming forward, not just in the Hollywood spotlight, but on PLNU’s campus as well.

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