Sex & Gender


May 12, 2017

Howard University is one of the latest higher education institutions to be sued for its handling of sexual assault reports from university students.

The lawsuit’s five female plaintiffs accused the private university of a “discriminatory and retaliatory response to multiple complaints of sexual assault and harassment” between 2014 and 2016. Earlier this week, Buzzfeed News chronicled the experiences of these students, the allegations being made in their lawsuit, and what led two of the five to leave Howard altogether due to mental illness.

In the lawsuit, Jane Doe 1 says that Howard’s slow and unhelpful response to her rape report caused her to use Twitter to vent about her assault. Jane Doe 1 says her tweets connected her with another Howard student, Jane Doe 2, who had also been sexually assaulted, only to discover that the same person had attacked each other. The suit alleges that the accused student originally transferred to Howard from UCLA after being accused of sexual.

By Erin White*, AFROPUNK contributor

Another student, Jane Doe 3, alleges that the university neglected to help her get counseling after she reported a sexual assault to the police and campus officials. In the suit, she claims that even after expressing deep depression and suicidal ideation, the school was very slow to respond. When the university finally did respond to her emergency request, she was given information to a group meeting that she was unable to attend.

One of the named school officials in the lawsuit is Candi Smiley, the Howard administrator who is in charge of handling sexual assault-related cases (Title IX Coordinator). Smiley is being accused of ignoring student emails and voicemails for weeks and months and being slow to act on pressing issues.

In the suit, Jane Doe 1 describes dealing with her case with Smiley in the hopes of regaining a safe space and removing her alleged attacker from her classes and living space but was told this couldn’t happen until the investigation into the assault itself was complete. After a month of ignored calls from Jane Doe 1 to check up on the status of the investigation, Smiley re-appeared to ask the student if she was talking about the rape report with other students in text messages. A few days later, according to the legal filing, the university fired Jane Doe 1 was fired from her RA position.

The lawsuit’s allegations are a horrifying echo of the story of an anonymous Spelman College student who also took to Twitter and detailed allegations of her violent rape by student Morehouse students solicited little more than a shrug.

In March of 2016, Jane Doe 1 and 2’s public Twitter exchange about their rapes prompted a campus-wide protest over the school’s irresponsible and enabling attitude and response to their student’s reports.

Photo via Howard University

*Erin White is an Atlanta-based writer and AFROPUNK’s editorial and social media assistant. You can follow her on Tumblr or friend her on Facebook. Have a pitch or an inquiry? Shoot her an email at