A “fist bump” and a selfie may have ended Marcus Knight’s educational career right as it started. The student, who has autism, cerebral palsy and a shunt to relieve fluid pressure on his brain, was not allowed to defend himself against allegations in two Title IX investigations this past fall, his mother told The College Fix.
Aurora Knight has raised more than half of the money to cover legal fees through a GoFundMe campaign as she challenges the sexual-misconduct findings on her son’s record.
Though Saddleback College lifted Marcus’s suspension a day before a hearing last month, it has thus far refused to remove the findings from his record, Aurora wrote in an update to the campaign Wednesday.
Her son (below) has limited expressive language capabilities and cannot negotiate social situations as easily as others, she told The College Fix.
Though he receives academic accommodations for his disabilities, he was not offered accommodations in the Title IX process, Aurora wrote in an email. “When we look at individuals with limited social skills, we cannot expect that they responded the same way as a typical individual.”
Former Drake University trustee Thomas Rossley, whose learning-disabled son is suing the university for a similar ordeal, told The Fix in a phone interview that Marcus’s case “goes to the whole problem with disability issues with Title IX.”
“Most schools don’t even let the students know how to ask for accommodations within a disciplinary process,” said Rossley, whose own “Title IX retaliation” claims against Drake were dismissed in court last month.
“So these students don’t know that they can even get accommodations within the disciplinary process,” whether the accused student or the accusing student, he said.
Aurora Knight laid out her narrative of the allegations in a phone interview with The Fix.
The first incident occurred in the first week of September when Marcus was in the Student Services office and asked a female student working there if he could “fist bump” her. She agreed but soon filed a Title IX complaint.
The next week Aurora and Marcus were asked to meet with the school’s Disabled Students Programs and Services coordinator, who allegedly called the fist bump “inappropriate behavior.” Aurora told The Fix that Marcus did not “bump” anything other than the female’s knuckles. (The Fix has reached the coordinator but that person has not been available for a phone interview as of Thursday night.)
His mother told the coordinator that Marcus had been at the office seeking campus employment. The official allegedly said that would be “totally pointless” because Marcus was “obviously incapable” and should be taking adult disability classes instead of college classes.
Though the coordinator said the incident would not go on her son’s record if the behavior stopped, according to Aurora, the mother became aggravated by the description of a consensual fist bump as “inappropriate.”
She asked the coordinator “Did he touch her? Did he hug her? Did he follow her? Did he try to get her phone number? Did he expose himself?” When the coordinator allegedly said no to each, Aurora said she responded: “Then stop calling it inappropriate. He’s just trying to make a friend.”
Aurora explained to Marcus that the female student did not want to be his friend, and he agreed not to interact with her anymore.
A month later, an official who served as both vice president of student services and Title IX coordinator called the Knights into another meeting – with police present – because the female student had reported the incident as sexual harassment, according to Aurora. This official did not respond to a query from The Fix.
The student had changed her story to say Marcus hugged her, sat very close to her, grabbed her with one hand, and with the other tried to get her hands onto his upper thighs. Aurora said that did not seem physically possible, given that the female student had been sitting behind the counter. Marcus acted out what he did – a two-handed fist bump – at that meeting.
Ordered to bring a ‘personal student assistant’
Aurora and her son were never allowed to formally defend him throughout this process, and didn’t hear back from the school between meetings except for an email from the coordinator recommending life-skills classes for Marcus, the mother told The Fix.
College staff present at the October meeting had Marcus sign an informal resolution of sexual harassment and told him not to have contact with the female student, according to Aurora.
Because of his autism, Marcus did not understand that he could not apologize to the student in person. When he approached her in the cafeteria, “everybody was pointing at him” because the female student “had been telling everybody he was weird or dangerous,” Aurora said.
Though he left the cafeteria before reaching the student, she filed another complaint against Marcus, his mother said. When Aurora complained that the student was spreading around rumors about Marcus, Aurora said an official told her in so many words that “gossiping was not against the law.”