A Syrian student at Penn State who fears his suspension for sexual misconduct could lead to his deportation to his war torn homeland can stay in school pending a Nov. 23 hearing, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
"My kid's back in school," said his lawyer, Andrew Shubin.
In a case that sits at the intersection of Middle Eastern conflict and the U.S. debate over what to do about sexual assault on campus, the student, identified only as John Doe in federal court documents, claims his civil rights were violated.
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The fourth-year architectural engineering student, along with two friends, received oral sex from a a female in the basement of a University Park fraternity house. After the incident, the girl said she was too drunk to have consented. The fraternity brothers said in court documents that the sexual assault claim was retaliation for not being admitted to a formal.
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The Syrian student was suspended from the university for two semesters after a university disciplinary process.
According to the complaint filed in federal court in Harrisburg this week, Penn State relies on independent fact finders to gather evidence and make recommendations for punishment during sexual assault investigations.
These investigations are not criminal inquiries. Rather, they deal with violations of student code of conduct.
The incident was referred to local police by the girl's sister, but it was not prosecuted.
The student code of conduct process however, does not give people accused of sexual assault the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses against them, lawyers for the Syrian student allege.
Penn State adopted the new model in 2015 after a growing chorus of student activists across the nation highlighted what they saw as an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses.
The new process was recommended by a Penn State task force to replace a system that led to victims telling potentially embarrassing and personal details of sexual assaults to panels of strangers.
The stakes are high for the student. Though his father is a permanent U.S. resident, and he qualifies for U.S. residency based on that status, he hasn’t received a U.S. visa for permanent residency yet. He is also a resident of Kuwait, but to maintain that status he must be a student.
If the university suspends him, he could be deported. And if he is not welcomed into Kuwait, he could be sent back to Syria, where two family members have died in a bloody civil war.