Indiana Daily Student

How IU used the code of conduct to intimidate a student pushing critical open letter

Administration said the letter and the student’s actions border on harassment toward Chris Parker.

The Musical Arts Center is seen March 1, 2022, on Eagleson Avenue. A Jacobs School of Music student said he felt the university intimidated him after he was told that an open letter he was involved with could yield student code of conduct violations.
The Musical Arts Center is seen March 1, 2022, on Eagleson Avenue. A Jacobs School of Music student said he felt the university intimidated him after he was told that an open letter he was involved with could yield student code of conduct violations.

Editor's Note: This story includes mention of sexual assault.

IU student Brendan Keller-Tuberg said he felt the university intimidated him after he was told that an open letter he was involved with could yield student code of conduct violations.

Keller-Tuberg, a jazz graduate student, had spoken out regarding IU jazz student Chris Parker’s sexual assault allegations and questioned why Parker was allowed back into the school after a suspension violation. 

He signed an open letter in opposition to Parker and the university’s handling of the situation and passed it along to other students he thought may be interested. This version of the open letter contained a call for Parker to be expelled. Keller-Tuberg was neither a writer nor an organizer. 

The open letter, which published Feb. 3, was critical of the university’s response and handling of a sexual assault case related to Parker. IU found Parker responsible for sexual assault in 2016, but Parker later violated his resulting suspension. If he did, he should have been expelled or received police charges, or both, according to a document obtained by the Indiana Daily Student. Neither happened. Parker was readmitted to the university in 2020, and six years later, his continued involvement still affects the Bloomington and IU jazz community. 

Related: [Dissonance in due process]

After university encroachment, Keller-Tuberg said he felt silenced by the potential student code violations that limited his freedom of speech. He and those involved said they believe this action was meant to pressure him and other students from speaking out.

In response, he and the only other current student who signed the letter both took their names off in fear of university discipline.

***

Keller-Tuberg said he had no reason to believe the open letter would break any part of the student code of conduct. However, in December 2021, he received an email from Libby Spotts, senior associate dean of student affairs and director and deputy of sexual misconduct & title IX coordinator, mentioning Jeremy Allen, Interim Jacobs School of Music Bicentennial Dean.

“Dean Allen and I have been made aware of an issue regarding interactions with other students and also that you may have information as a witness about possible violations of the code of conduct,” the email read.

Though the email did not reference a specific allegation or concern, Keller-Tuberg said he knew it was about his opposition to Parker. The email said he was not being charged with a violation, but she and other university officials wanted to talk and “come to a resolution.” He said he wondered if faculty members actually wanted to hear people’s concerns.

In the email, Spotts told him the Office of Student Conduct scheduled a meeting later that week to meet. 

Keller-Tuberg emailed back asking for more specific information on what the meeting was about. Spotts responded saying it was regarding a petition and two more administrators would join the meeting. 

Though the email tried to reassure he wasn’t in trouble, he said he was confused and intimidated by what was being alluded to. 

Spotts did not respond to the IDS request for comment.

***

The IDS obtained an audio recording of the meeting. It was in this meeting that Keller-Tuberg alleges university officials intimidated him and said his actions were edging on violating university harassment policies. 

It wasn’t expressed to him that he could have another person attend with him until he was told at the start of the meeting. 

“If you want to have somebody with you, that's more than okay,” Spotts said in the meeting. “I would just need to know, we'd need to know who's with you and double-check that there's no conflict of interest there.”

When Keller-Tuberg logged onto the Zoom meeting, Spotts told him this was a forum for him to express his concerns as well as for administration to tell him about a part of the student code. 

Keller-Tuberg expressed his aforementioned concerns and told them there was another alleged victim in the jazz community. Keller-Tuberg did not tell faculty her identity, but he was referring to Elena Escudero, a jazz alumna who alleges Parker raped her in 2017 and spoke to the IDS in the “Dissonance in due process” investigation. Since Keller-Tuberg has been in Jacobs since 2017, he said he has friends who were directly involved. No other current students in the program have that experience, he said.

“I was speaking the facts of the article, and nobody was prepared to listen,” Keller-Tuberg said in an interview. “It was interpreted as an instigation, or I was stirring the pot or taking aim at people which, in a way I was, but it was very based on actual information.”

The open letter at this time called for Parker to be expelled. 

To spread ideas that Parker should be expelled could result in a violation of the university code concerning harassment, Spotts said in the meeting. All students enrolled at IU have rights to go to school free from harassment, she said, and Keller-Tuberg pushing the open letter could result in a hostile environment for a degree-seeking student. 

“They're targeted, and the goal is to remove them from a degree program or from their educational opportunity and that behavior becomes persistent, severe or pervasive to the goal is to remove them,” Spotts said in the meeting. “That is something that can fall under harassment.”

It is unclear what part of IU’s code of conduct Spotts was specifically referring to. However, the nearest-aligning section says a student is free from harassment with, “the purpose or effect of unreasonably creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for academic pursuits, housing, or participation in university activities.”

Related: [LETTER: An open letter to the Jacobs School of Music and Indiana University]

Talking about how the university became aware, Spotts said in the meeting they heard from some students that they felt uncomfortable and pressured when Keller-Tuberg approached them to sign the open letter.

Last semester, Keller-Tuberg had conversations with a few students about Parker, cautioning them and recommending dissociation if possible. Over Thanksgiving break, Keller-Tuberg said he texted three or four people he thought may be interested in signing onto the open letter as a way for them to speak out and be in solidarity with survivors. From that action, he thinks word spread about his involvement in the department.

During the meeting, he apologized and said it was not his intention to create a tense environment. Keller-Tuberg said in an interview he doesn’t know who the students are, but he assumes Parker is one of those who reported him to the university. 

Keller-Tuberg also made it clear he had no leadership role putting this letter together. Spotts said during the meeting they thought he had a larger role with the open letter.

“What has happened is I am the only current student in the jazz department who has signed this letter,” Keller-Tuberg said during the meeting.

***

Four administrators attended the meeting, including jazz studies department chair Tom Walsh, Spotts, Allen and Lissa May, who is the associate dean for instruction, interim guitar department chair and professor of music education. 

May is good friends with the Parker family, said Shailey Ostlund, who is the woman who reported Parker to the university for sexual assault, prompting the university investigation and hearing. For someone who has known Parker and his family for so long, she didn’t understand why the meeting was called and why May was there.

Ostlund was involved in the open letter and heard about Keller-Tuberg’s meeting and May’s involvement. Keller-Tuberg did not know of May’s background with the Parker family until he spoke with Ostlund afterward.

May also wrote a letter supportive of Parker which was read aloud at the 2016 title IX hearing, Ostlund said. It seemed to not be written in her capacity as a university administrator and was from her personally, Ostlund said. May was not present at the 2016 hearing, she said.

“It's a complete conflict of interest,” Ostlund said. “As someone who's still trying to make some sort of waves in Chris's favor, especially even after all of this has come out, is really distressing.”

Related: [Community ‘not surprised’ by lack of IU public response after misconduct investigation]

Keller-Tuberg’s situation and May’s involvement within it reminds her of how her title IX investigation went, which she says the university was “happily quiet” about. She said the university accommodated Chris during her six-month investigation, alleging the university prolonged it for Parker to finish his semester. She said the university’s behavior has not changed. It’s frustrating and disappointing, she said, but not new. 

“I don't even know how anyone in my position who has been a survivor of sexual assault can begin to process that,” she said. 

May did not respond to the IDS’s request for comment.

In the meeting, May spoke three times: to introduce herself, to speak on the university’s process and to say goodbye.

“I just reiterate that the process works,” May said.

***

He felt ganged up on in the meeting, Keller-Tuberg said, and the meeting left him no choice but to keep his thoughts to himself and remain silent. It crippled the jazz student body from organizing and raising awareness of a present, unsafe situation, he said.

Administration said during the meeting that wasn’t their intention.

“I know that it can be kind of intimidating to see like this many administrators on a call,” Spotts said. “So I want you to know that's not our goal.” 

For a significant part of the meeting, Keller-Tuberg and jazz faculty members asked Spotts questions regarding the university’s sexual assault reporting and hearing system, including the question of what to do if the system is believed to be faulty. Spotts said the best option is to have a conversation internally with the Office of Institutional Equity. 

“We have come to a place where we, to a certain extent, distrust the processes because of the ways and the outcomes that were reached.” Keller-Tuberg said in the meeting. “That we believe were not simply unethical but actually were a mis-implementation of the processes themselves.” 

The university was acting extrajudicially to try to stop exposure to this issue, Abby Malala, IU jazz alum and letter organizer, said. Especially considering how no specific lines of the IU code were listed as possible infractions, she said she feels like empty threats were launched with ulterior motives. 

“It sounded immediately to me like an intimidation tactic,” Malala said. “I do think that the university was borderline abusing its power to try and protect its own reputation and its own interests.”

Malala approached Garrett Spoelhof, an audio engineering student at Jacobs, to sign the letter after local music festival RealFest on July 17, 2021, in Dunn Meadow. She decided to draft the letter in response to Parker’s inclusion in the festival, which Spoelhof helped organize. Spoelhof was the other current IU student signed onto the letter prior to Keller-Tuberg’s meeting. 

Spoelhof said he felt responsible for putting people in a dangerous situation, and he needed to rectify it. Since, he has signed onto the letter and released a public statement with the festival. 

Related: [‘We weren't speaking to our family’: Jazz students express frustration after town hall]

Though Keller-Tuberg was the one pulled into the meeting, Spoelhof said he was afraid of potential consequences.

Keller-Tuberg called Spoelhof immediately after the meeting since they were the only current students involved in the letter and any code violation would affect them. In December, they both decided to take their names off the letter.

When trying to find more current students to sign the letter, Malala said she was worried students would need to juggle their personal academic standing with their willingness to speak up. The students she spoke to prior to the IDS investigation largely wanted to remain neutral on the situation, she said.

***

The wording of the open letter was revised to remove any request for Parker to be expelled and focused on making systematic changes to ensure cases like this don’t happen again, Spoelhof said.

“When the wording of the letter was changed to express disappointment with the system, I think that was almost more effective,” Spoelhof said. “It allows focus to be cast not only upon the problematic current situation.”

Additionally, once the IDS published its investigation Jan. 27, Malala said it was easier to rally support since much of the information was published and the students began to band together. Keller-Tuberg, Spoelhof and multiple other current students signed their names onto the revised letter, which jumped from less than 20 signatures to 55 in a week.

Neither Keller-Tuberg nor Spoelhof have heard anything from the university regarding policy violations following the publishing of the open letter in early February.

Keller-Tuberg said the investigation completely changed the climate around this issue, and many who were close to Parker cut ties. He no longer feels like he is outnumbered and has confidence to speak within his community.

“The university is hoping that this will just die down and that people will forget what's happened,” Malala said. “I hope very much that that doesn't happen.”

Editor's note: Abby Malala previously worked for the Indiana Daily Student.

The IDS is continuing its investigation into the sexual misconduct within the Jacobs School of Music and the Bloomington jazz community. Any news tips can be forwarded to Cate Charron at catcharr@iu.edu.

A list of resources is available here if you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or abuse.

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