Op-EdOpinion

Guest Viewpoint: A letter to the campus community from OASA regarding the lawsuit against UO



This piece reflects the view of the author and not those of Emerald Media Group.

An open letter to the campus community:

OASA has been following recent developments regarding the upcoming litigation filed against the University of Oregon in January.  We are deeply concerned about the recent revelations by Jennifer Morlok and Karen Stokes from the University Counseling and Testing Center (UCTC). They allege that they were asked to provide “non-standard care” and that the UO administration accessed the student’s records without the student’s consent or a court order. [1,2]

First of all, we would like to thank Jennifer Morlok and Karen Stokes for placing the survivor’s needs first despite the personal risks they took by filing a report about potential illegal and unethical behavior. We are happy to see that the UO has counseling staff that dedicates themselves to the safety of survivors, and the campus community as a whole. People like you are essential for making our campus safe again.

OASA cannot and will not comment on the legality of these actions – that responsibility falls on the court. Regardless, we assert that what is legally permissible is not always ethically justifiable. We are deeply appalled by the attempt to advise Jennifer Morlok to provide “non-standard” care for the student because of her intent to file a lawsuit against the university. Not only is it appalling that anyone outside the therapy process attempted to interfere with a therapist’s treatment plan, but that apparently, according to some elements at the UO, the level of care students deserve to receive seems to depend on whether or not they exercise their rights according to Title IX. If the UO is serious about not undermining “on-going commitment to support the student inside and outside of the classroom” and its “priority to provide support and services to any student in need and make our campus a safe place for all members of our community”, it would publicly condemn this attempt and make sure that this incident did not set the precedence for future litigations. [3]

We would be deeply disappointed to learn that the UO General Counsel did, in fact, access the student’s treatment records in December 2014 (one month before the actual lawsuit was filed). While we respect UO’s right to defend itself against litigation, accessing these records without consent or a court order solely because of an intent to file a lawsuit is a breach of trust and compromises the safety of everyone seeking counsel at the UCTC. If the student had not filed a lawsuit after all, the reasons for accessing the records would have become obsolete, but the records would have still been accessed. We acknowledge that the UO had not read the student’s records, but it does not change the fact that students’ therapy records at the UTCT are not safe from nonconsensual access. The confidentiality policy does not mention this scenario either, leaving students with a false sense of safety. [4]

We also reject the argument that this procedure was acceptable because it is common practice. Common practices like these are detrimental to combating sexual violence on campus and are the reason task forces, review panels and activist groups on sexual assault had been initiated in the first place. This litigation was a great opportunity for the UO to demonstrate its commitment to supporting and respectfully treating survivors of sexual assault. Unfortunately, we have seen the complete opposite so far.

We know that for some survivors and other students seeking confidential services, the UCTC is not a safe space anymore. It undermines the great work that staff like Jennifer Morlok and Karen Stokes do. OASA has done research on alternative institutions to seek counseling and we received written guarantees that treatment records would only be surrendered with a court subpoena. The following is a list of on-campus facilities you can reach out to for support. The written guarantees can be found on our Facebook page: [5]

We advise that students seek counseling in these institutions until there is full transparency about the UCTC’s confidentiality policies. Off-campus resources can of course also be consulted. A resource list can be found on our Facebook page as well. We deeply regret this development and hope that everyone at the University of Oregon will swiftly focus on creating a safe environment on campus for all students where every survivor of sexual violence receives the treatment they need and deserve.

[1] http://registerguard.com/rg/news/local/32755990-75/uo-therapist-alleges-potential-illegal-behavior-in-student-lawsuit-case.html.csp

[2] http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1658111-letterofconcern-2-8-15.html

[3] See Interim President Coltrane’s email to the campus community on 01/08/2015

[4] http://counseling.uoregon.edu/CounselingServices/ConfidentialityPrivacyPolicy.aspx

[5] https://www.facebook.com/UOOASA


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