Barnard Assailants’ Expulsion Overturned
BY SARAH MILLER-DAVENPORT
This past Monday the College Community Board overturned its previous decision to expel the students found responsible for the recent assault at Barnard.
In March, seniors Richard Kocher and Ryan Catignani and sophomore Nicholas Walker were arrested for breaking into a Barnard resident’s room and two of them were charged with assaulting him. At a hearing last week, the Community Board, made up of three faculty members and two students expelled two students and suspended a third found to be involved in the attack. The administration would not disclose which students were given which sanctions.
Catignani, Kocher and Walker were given the right to appeal the sanctions and five new Community Board members reviewed the case on Monday.
Students can appeal the Community Board’s sanctions for one or all of three reasons: on the basis of new evidence, on the claim that the process was unfair, or with the assertion that the punishment was too severe.
This final decision came as a shock to many members of the Oberlin Community, with few more upset than senior Jeff Harvey, the student who was assualted. Harvey heard the news second-hand and was only notified by the administration when he called Goldsmith. Although surprised by the board’s decision, Harvey said, “From the beginning I had doubts about any system where they get two appeals and I get none. The whole judicial process is geared toward cheating and minor offenses.”
Other students were also dismayed by the Community Board’s leniency. “I think that outside the context of Oberlin, this incident would be taken more seriously. The Community Board’s decision was irresponsible and it sends the message that this kind of behavior, criminal behavior, is acceptable at Oberlin,” senior Laura Paley said.
Despite Harvey’s and other students’ criticism, Assistant Dean of Students Bill Stackman insisted that the administration reacted with expediency when it found out about the assault. A police report was filed on Saturday March 17, the day of the attack, and Stackman started investigating the situation on March 19, after being away for the weekend. “On my part, I couldn’t have moved more aggressively than I did. I felt that this was extremely serious,” he said.
Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith said that the students were still attending school as usual. “A judgement would be made about whether their continuing staying on campus poses a significant risk to others on campus,” he said.
Goldsmith said that because students who are asked to leave campus while Community Board reviews their cases lose that class time regardless of the outcome, “the College would have to have a very good reason to forbid a student to attend classes while an appeal is pending.”
The incident is also being handled in criminal court. Catignani, Kocher and Walker were first sent to the Oberlin Municipal Court and, because they are being charged with felonies, their cases were all bound over to Lorain County Common Pleas Court. Catignani and Kocher are being charged with aggravated burglary and assault, while Walker is being charged with complicity to aggravated burglary and assault. None of their cases have been presented before a grand jury yet.
Harvey is still writing the Grape column that allegedly sparked the assault, although he said Stackman advised him not to write anything inflammatory. He said that while the student body has generally been very supportive, the administration’s reaction has made him uncomfortable.
“The fact that they’re still on campus means for me that the issue has no closure.” It has also made him question the College’s priorities.
“If unlawful entry and assault aren’t grounds for expulsion, then I don’t know what is,” he said.
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