The president of Utah State University, Noelle Cockett, held an early morning meeting with students in the music department on Friday. She acknowledged allegations of sexual assault that surfaced online this week involving music faculty and promised an investigation is underway.
The primary allegation came in the form of a Facebook post shared on Tuesday. Whitney Griffith, a former Utah State student, says that in 2009 she was raped by an instructor in the piano department.
Griffith didn’t tell anyone right away. Instead, she says she sunk into a deep depression and felt like her life was falling apart. After encouragement from her dad and her therapist she eventually contacted the office on campus that handles sexual assault. They set up a meeting between Griffith and her department head.
“I felt very dismissed and they didn’t take it seriously," Griffith says.
Griffith says that the faculty member, who is no longer at the school, was spoken to and he apologized. No further action was taken.
“I just thought, ‘Okay, I don’t know what else to do. I did what I was supposed to," says Griffith.
The response was demoralizing for Griffith and once she heard other students had been assaulted by the same faculty member her anxiety became overwhelming and she dropped out of school. She says the decision to share her story now is a mix of #metoo momentum and the fact that she still hears about students being mistreated in the same program, nine years later.
"This is my story," says Griffith. "The only way I can make a difference seems to be to make it public.”
Her post, which has been shared widely, prompted a response from USU president Noelle Cockett. Despite being out of town, she called an early morning meeting with the entire music department three days after the Facebook post and spoke via video.
“She expressed her deep concern about the seriousness of the matter," says USU spokesperson Tim Vitale.
Vitale says Cockett expressed gratitude for all the students who had come forward on social media with their stories. She then shared her plan of action.
“She told them that we, the university, has contracted with an outside attorney to conduct an independent review," says Vitale.
Cockett has hired Salt Lake law firm Snell and Wilmer to investigate all allegations, which involve a number of faculty, and report back to her and USU’s board of trustees as soon as possible.
Griffith says she’s glad that USU is taking action but that she also believes the environment of abuse she experienced will continue unless this investigation leads to more changes in department personnel.