It took the University of British Columbia more than a year and a half to act against a grad student, despite mounting complaints of harassment or sexual assault by at least six women on campus. The women say Dmitry Mordvinov, a 28-year old PHD student in the history department, committed a wide range of offensive acts against them from inappropriate touching to sexual assault. Mordvinov was quietly expelled and told the fifth estate he's appealing. The fifth estate takes you inside the story of the women’s fight to have their allegations taken seriously.
- Shortly after we released details of our investigation, UBC issued a "Response to the fifth estate program"
- UBC interim Vice President and Chancellor Martha Piper said in statement online: "I want to apologize to the women in these cases who feel they have been let down by our university"
- Students say the university "abandoned" them, and one student says she was told in effect to keep quiet
SCHOOL OF SECRETS
November 20, 2015
The University of British Columbia took more than a year and a half to act against a grad student despite mounting complaints of harassment or sexual assault by at least six women on campus.
The women allege Dmitry Mordvinov, a 28-year old PhD student in the history department, committed a wide range of offensive acts against them from inappropriate touching to sexual assault, starting at least as far back as the spring of 2013. The university quietly expelled him last week.
Initially, some of the women remained silent. Then, in the spring of 2014, came the first formal complaint by a student who alleged that Mordvinov had forced himself on her after a night of partying.
Mordvinov did not deny an encounter took place with the student who first complained.
"When somebody asks you to their room after a party, they always (or nearly always) mean sex," Mordvinov wrote to the student in a message obtained by the fifth estate.
"I thought I made it clear that I didn't want to have sex," the woman told him.
Around the same time, a second woman came forward with allegations of sexual assault. In the coming months, two more would come forward and others would follow.
"I wanted the university to know because I thought they would know what to do," said Caitlin Cunningham, who told UBC officials she was assaulted by Mordvinov but was frustrated with the lack of response. "I thought that I was helping them to do the right thing."
Another woman says she was sexually assaulted by Mordvinov in May 2014. "I was in pain. I was bleeding," she told the fifth estate, asking to remain anonymous.
In emails to a friend obtained by the fifth estate, Mordvinov, who is from Russia, made a stunning admission about what happened that night: "I do realize that in Canada drunk sex is non-consensual, although this thought unfortunately did not cross my mind back then. I should, of course, have left her alone," he wrote. "I realized that what I have done is wrong."
But when that woman later went to university officials to get UBC to take action, she says the university dismissed her complaint because the alleged assault took place off campus.
"I was positive that he would be kicked out of the college because I thought there was no way that anyone would get the privilege of remaining in a community that is that tight-knit — and because it's that tight-knit, people are that exposed to this kind of danger," the woman told the fifth estate.
UBC officials at one point urged mediation between the female students and their alleged attacker, which the women refused.
"I don't want to sit in a room with this student," said Cunningham. "And I don't think it's appropriate for assault, especially sexual assault, that you sit in a room … and have a mediation."
Finally last week after a one-day closed-door hearing into some of the complaints, UBC quietly told some of the women in an email that it had expelled Mordvinov, telling one of the women that he is "no longer a student at the university." The university would not disclose any details to CBC on the reasons for the decision.
Mordvinov told the fifth estate he is appealing.
He declined repeated requests for an interview, but said in an e-mail: "Some people who do not even know me personally have spearheaded the campaign against me, and I doubt that any information received from such sources can be considered reliable."
UBC declined to talk to the fifth estate about the details of the case or the criticisms raised by the women, citing privacy concerns. But in an email statement to the fifth estate, UBC spokesperson Leslie Dickson said, "We take serious assault seriously and welcome a constructive dialogue on how our administrative processes ... can be made clearer and more responsive."
But Kaitlin Russell, a former executive in the history graduate students' association, said UBC is failing to protect women on campus.
She was one of the students who led a campaign calling for the department to protect the physical and psychological safety of students and take action against harassment — only to be rebuffed by administrators who said the "unsubstantiated allegations" would "sow fear and suspicion."
Russell said, "The takeaway message from this whole thing has been that one male student is somehow more valuable to this institution than a handful or a dozen or however many women."
Paul Krause, a veteran history professor who took up the women's cause and publicly berated the administration, said, "The damage is that we send out a signal that we have abandoned them, that we don't care about them. And that the corporate brand of UBC and of the care that we give to it in the public arena is more important than signalling to our students, we care about you, we're going to make sure you have a safe place."
Glynnis Kirchmeier says that when she approached UBC's Equity Inclusion Office with concerns about Mordvinov, she was told in effect by conflict manager Monica Kay to keep quiet.
"We can't have you guys tell anybody or talk about this or say that there's … a problem, because that's like if people know there are snakes in the grass but they can't see the snakes, they'll get really afraid," she says Kay told her.
Kay did not respond to the fifth estate's request for an interview.
Then in March 2015, when history students presented a petition for action to department head Tina Loo, she told them in an email that it was "potentially problematic legally because of the allegations of harassment it contained."
Russell, the former student executive, was shocked at what she says Loo later told them in an face-to-face encounter.
"She said that she could not allow us to present the statement" at a department meeting, Russell said, because the petition "was politically inflammatory and was endangering to the department."
Russell said, "She said that she would shut us down."
In a response to the fifth estate, Loo insisted "the suggestion that I tried to keep students from speaking publicly is wrong."
But she acknowledged she told the women "unsubstantiated third-party allegations … can sow fear and suspicion among students" and that the petition "could be viewed as defamatory."
History professor Krause, who had been contacted by some of the women, went public with his concerns in a blistering online article that would cause a stir. He was furious at the university's reluctance to act decisively.
"I'm at a loss to explain that and I'm embarrassed by this," he said.
Even after Mordvinov's expulsion this month, many of the women feel betrayed by the university they called home.
"If the university isn't going to take care of this or isn't going to try and offer a safe space for people to learn in, then … by doing that you're making it really easy for predators," said one of them.
Cunningham said, "The attack itself didn't make me a victim, this process has made me a victim of procedure and of bureaucracy. And I got lost in the mess of it all. I mean, the system is broken from start to finish."