Madison High School Student’s Report of Sexual Assault Highlights Need for Review of District Policies

Cammy Nguyen (right) stands next to her friend Emma O’Brien (left) outside of the Madison High School gym, shortly before volleyball practice. Nguyen is captain of her volleyball team. Photo credit: Leilani Vandehey.

 

The simplified summary of Cammy Nguyen’s impossible situation that has been cycling through the media is only fragments of a more complex story. Written by Nguyen’s friend Emma O’Brien, the short paragraph introduced the hashtag “#standw/cam” to social media, primarily Snapchat and Instagram. Most of the facts are clear already, but some blanks have yet to be filled. In early October, Cammy Nguyen shared with local media outlets that she was sexually assaulted by her Madison High School classmate and once trusted friend at a small get-together on September 22, 2018, hosted by a friend of hers. There have been theories that the entire assault was a misunderstanding. Both Nguyen and the perpetrator, along with the two other friends that were present, had been under the influence of illegal substances. The perpetrator’s girlfriend was not at the gathering, and while they had all been under the influence of illegal substances, Nguyen recalls that he had only smoked “not that much,” marijuana several hours before he committed the crime. The group had already gone to sleep when she was assaulted, and Nguyen further reasons that since the perpetrator was aware enough to go back to his original sleeping spot on the opposite side of the room from her before going to sleep, he must have known what he was doing. “He was definitely in control,” she says, unwavering. Nguyen says that after she reached out to the perpetrator’s friends, he approached her to explain his perspective. “I honestly don’t know what even happened,” the perpetrator argued, unconvincingly in Nguyen’s opinion. He has not responded to a request for comment.

 

Initially, Nguyen had been hesitant to report the event to Madison administration at all, but eventually decided that she needed to tell somebody. Nguyen’s friends relayed her situation to her teacher Mr. Garth Fossen with Nguyen present, using strictly hypotheticals. Fossen knew that the story was about Nguyen right away. Later that Monday he encouraged her to file an official report with administration. The following day Nguyen emailed a synopsis of the assault to her counselor Jerardo Marquez. During one of many meetings with Vice Principal Lajena Broadous to discuss how Nguyen was going to tell her mother of the assault, Broadous agreed that they could wait until Friday of the next week when Nguyen’s older sister would be visiting from the University of Oregon. According to Nguyen, on Monday, October 1, Broadous called her in once again and told her that they could not wait until Friday because they had kept it from her parents for too long already. At the same meeting, Nguyen was informed that since she is a student athlete and had partaken in the use of illegal substances, she would be suspended from her role as captain of the volleyball team for 28 days, with only 24 days left in the season. Broadous said she would speak with the Athletics Director the next day and continued to question Nguyen about how to approach her mother. “Come on, help me out here,” coaxed Broadous when Nguyen found herself at a loss for words. Blinking back tears, she was shocked to hear that she wouldn’t be finishing the year’s volleyball season, and she had no idea what she should tell her mom. Due to continuous prodding from the vice principal, Nguyen told her mother everything shortly after the #standw/cam post began traveling from story to story on social media that night. Broadous did not respond to The Post’s requests for confirmation of these events.

 

Contrary to Nguyen’s expectations, her mother was enraged, not at her daughter’s use of drugs and alcohol, but at the school’s decision to suspend her from volleyball. She was not the only one. For days after O’Brien’s post was released, Nguyen was burning a hole through center stage, and her story was spreading like wildfire. On Tuesday October 2, a walkout was organized at Madison in support of Nguyen and other victims of sexual assault. Hundreds of students were present, all there to help take a stand and to demand change from PPS. To anyone else, the experience may have been daunting, but Nguyen is no stranger to social justice and activism. She has always had an interest in social and environmental justice, and spent seven weeks of her summer at Princeton University working with Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA), an organization that helps students from “under-resourced backgrounds” with applications to prominent colleges and universities in America and provides them with the support they need through graduation. Nguyen herself is aiming to attend Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, or Columbia University to study environmental science.

 

Nguyen’s recent activism highlights a frustrating weakness in Portland Public School District policies. PPS employees are often ill-equipped to handle cases of sexual misconduct, and there are no guidelines in place for what to do when the related policies don’t provide clear guidelines on the appropriate course of disciplinary action. According to the Confidentiality Clause of the Administrative Directive regarding drugs and alcohol, a student who reveals alcohol/drug use in order to get help from the school may not be punished for said use. However, the directive also states that “It is not considered self-disclosure when a student admits alcohol/drug use…in the course of an investigation of possible misconduct.” Since Nguyen’s case can count both as an investigation into possible misconduct (though not drug or alcohol related), and as disclosure for the purpose of obtaining help, it is unclear which set of rules must be followed. This is where misunderstandings took place.

 

It is standard protocol to commence an immediate investigation into reports of sexual misconduct. The district office was unable to provide information about an investigation into Nguyen’s report in time for publication. When Broadous decided Nguyen was going to be suspended from her volleyball team, she was following procedures based on the fact that there is cause for an investigation for possible misconduct, and not self-disclosure. Confusions like this where relevant procedures are in conflict with one another or the case in question doesn’t fit into one defined category, are exactly what district officials need to be working to avoid.

 

Nguyen prepared a speech for the walkout on October 2, sharing how young women in similar positions had reached out to her, thanking her for speaking up when they themselves hadn’t. “We demand that PPS develop clear guidelines on how to support victims of sexual assault and that the administrators who are in charge of these investigations are adequately trained to sensitively support students.” Nguyen voices the concerns of thousands, and by doing so sparks the flame that will bring much-needed change to our society, one school district at a time. As she told her supporters at the walkout, “In this day and age, we deserve better.” Building upon the pillars of social justice activists and advocates before her, Cammy Nguyen is ready to face the fire.

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