Comings & Goings

By Peter Rosenstein - March 2, 2023 12:00 am

A third-year student at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law who self-identifies as a “non-binary, Black Femme” filed a discrimination complaint on Jan. 9 alleging that the school violated federal law by refusing to take action on campus to protect the student from domestic violence and stalking from a former boyfriend.

The student, D.C. resident Loreal Hawk, filed the complaint through their attorney before the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Among other things, it alleges that the law school refused over a period of close to three years to provide accommodations such as allowing virtual attendance of classes to help safeguard Hawk from repeated stalking and threats of domestic violence from the ex-boyfriend, who’s referred to in the complaint as the “respondent” and is not identified by name.

The complaint says Hawk is philosophically opposed to police involvement in this type of domestic situation and that under federal law, colleges are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to protect students from domestic violence and stalking without requiring them to report the threats to campus police or a municipal police department.

The complaint charges that the UDC law school’s intentional refusal to act in support of Hawk violates Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments Act of 1972, which bans discrimination at schools based on sex and gender identity. It charges that the school’s lack of action also violates another federal statute known as the Clery Act, which requires schools and colleges to take reasonable steps to safeguard students from threats of sexual harassment and stalking, among other hostile actions.

The 37-page complaint further calls on the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate and impose civil penalties against UDC for violating the two laws and to order the school to take emergency action to protect Hawk from further threats by the respondent between now and the time Hawk is scheduled to graduate in May of this year.

The UDC Clarke School of Law did not immediately respond to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on the complaint and whether it disputes the allegations included in the complaint.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said the department’s Office of Civil Rights “does not acknowledge specific complaints until they have been evaluated and accepted for investigation.” Bradshaw added, “We’ll be in touch,” implying his office would respond to press inquiries about the Hawk complaint at the appropriate time.

Hawk’s complaint, which was little noticed at the time it was filed in early January, surfaced on Monday at a D.C. Council Committee of the Whole oversight hearing on UDC-related matters when both Hawk and Hawk’s attorney, Megan Challender, brought up the complaint and Hawk’s allegations against UDC in testimony during the virtual hearing.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who presided over the hearing, asked UDC President Ronald Mason, who also testified, to respond to the allegations made in Hawk’s complaint at a later time, but did not ask Mason to respond to the allegations at the Feb. 27 hearing.

The complaint says the respondent, who allegedly assaulted and continues to stalk Loreal Hawk, has no affiliation with the law school or UDC. It says he had been dating Hawk until Hawk attempted to end their relationship in October 2020, which it says prompted the respondent to physically assault Hawk, forcibly take Hawk’s car keys and drive Hawk against their will to Hawk’s apartment in D.C.

Once there, the complaint states, the respondent held Hawk as a prisoner in Hawk’s own apartment for a period of time until the law student persuaded the respondent to leave the apartment after being subjected to physical violence.

“When Mx. Hawk demanded that Respondent leave, Respondent lunged at Mx. Hawk, knocking Mx. Hawk to the ground,” according to the complaint. “Mx. Hawk was able to get free and lock themselves in the bathroom. Respondent tried to beat down the door, but eventually left,” the complaint says.

“After leaving, Respondent began repeatedly calling Mx. Hawk,” the complaint continues. “Between October 2020 and March 2021, Respondent directed a persistent course of conduct at Mx. Hawk that caused Mx. Hawk to reasonably fear for their own safety,” it says. “This included as many as 30 unwanted calls a day, text messages, and emails.” It says Hawk received many of the calls and text messages while on the UDC campus taking classes.

The complaint adds that, “Following over a year of relative respite from Respondent, Respondent’s course of conduct resumed on October 6, 2022, and continues to this day.”

It says UDC further violated the law by at one point informing Hawk that it could only take protective action if Hawk reported the threats to campus police or filed a report with D.C. police.

“Mx. Hawk does not feel comfortable reporting to the police,” the complaint states. “Mx. Hawk organizes in the police violence space and thus does not feel police will handle their situation in a way that would be adequate and best for their unique situation,” it says. “Further, Mx. Hawk is Black and nonbinary, two identities that experience high rates of disbelief by law enforcement and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” the complaint says. 

“Finally, Mx. Hawk fears possible escalation from Respondent if police were to become involved,” it says.

Hawk’s attorney, Megan Challender, an official with the legal services organization Network for Victim Recovery of DC, said she understands that some in the LGBTQ community might raise questions about her client’s concerns about dealing with D.C. police without knowing Hawk’s specific situation.

LGBTQ activists in D.C., including longtime transgender rights advocate Earline Budd, have pointed out that after many years of advocacy work by the LGBTQ community, D.C. police have put in place safeguards and police training programs to ensure supportive behavior and support for LGBTQ crime victims.

Activists, including Budd, point to the longstanding D.C. Police LGBT Liaison Unit, which provides services for LGBTQ crime victims and is called upon by other police units to assist in investigating crimes targeting LGBTQ people. Police officials have said many LGBTQ people also now serve openly as officers on the D.C. police force.

When asked if Hawk considered obtaining a D.C. Superior Court stay-away order to prohibit the respondent from engaging in stalking or harassing phone calls or contact with Hawk of any kind, which can be obtained without filing a police report, Challender said she could not provide that information because it would violate attorney-client privilege.

“Of course, we talked about options,” Challender told the Blade. “And to be clear, we wouldn’t expect an educational institution to act as a policing authority,” she said. “But there is a lot of stuff that could have been taken that was not offered and they were not really engaged with us on,” she said in referring to UDC law school officials.

Among the actions the university could have taken but did not, Challender said, is to allow Hawk to take some or all their classes virtually, which was the case for all students in 2020 during the peak of the COVID pandemic. Challender notes that the respondent in his phone calls and email and text messages to Hawk has made it clear he was surveilling the UDC campus and knew Hawk’s whereabouts, including the classrooms and building where Hawk’s classes were being held.

Another option UDC did not undertake was to issue its own no-contact order to the respondent, something most other schools routinely do for students being harassed, Challender said. She said her law office issued such a stay away order to the respondent, which the respondent ignored.

“Another option to consider would be providing Loreal with a parking spot in the garage underneath the building so that Loreal doesn’t have to park on the street and walk and experience harm on the street and instead can go directly into a secure building,” she said.

In their testimony before Monday’s D.C. Council hearing Hawk told how Hawk had high hopes and expectations of their role as law student at UDC

“Further, I was thrilled by the opportunity to attend my first Historically Black College or University, where I hoped to be nurtured and in community with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) attorneys and advocates,” Hawk stated in their written testimony submitted to the D.C. Council. But all that changed after Hawk attempted to seek support and accommodations from the school in response to the domestic violence and stalking Hawk encountered from the respondent, Hawk says in their testimony.

“UDC Law’s response to my request for accommodations has been inadequate, endangering, or altogether absent,” Hawk told the D.C. Council hearing. “In the first iteration of this issue, UDC Law enacted a punitive measure, refused to notify me of Title IX and Clery Act accommodations, rescinded my scholarship, and failed to reinstate my scholarship once I performed the terms of our agreement,” their testimony states.

“I was repeatedly misgendered throughout the entire process and their actions indicated that I was being excluded, punished and ignored because of my intersectional identities as a non-binary, Black femme, and survivor of domestic violence,” Hawk told the Council hearing.

Loreal Hawk testifying before a virtual DC Council hearing about their discrimination complaint against UDC School of Law. Photo by Lou from online Council broadcast of the Feb. 27 hearing. (Screen capture)

The Washington Blade will report the UDC School of Law’s official response and answer to the complaint as soon as it either decides to publicly release it or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, where the complaint was filed, makes it part of the public record.

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