Freshman year at Southern Utah University includes a three-day orientation packed with activities, walking underneath the infamous bell tower towards a new beginning and preparing for a future career.
For Kinley Nelson, it also included placing a stalking injunction against one of the first peers she met at the university.
Nelson, who is now a senior studying criminal justice, is suing SUU for failing to protect her during a Title IX investigation in which she was the victim.
Her journey began in 2017 when she started her studies at SUU with a full-tuition music scholarship. Nelson was paired with a male student in a music class with the hopes that the two could be a support system for each other.
However, support was the last thing on this male student’s mind.
“As the semester progressed, this student began asking me on dates, making sexually suggestive comments, and attempting to manipulate me. The more I evaded him, the more aggressive he became,” Nelson said.
Soon this student was unsolicitedly arriving at Nelson’s apartment late in the evening and coming up with as many excuses as possible to see her.
In February of 2018, Nelson received a message from the student stating that he would kill himself.
Nelson immediately contacted former Dean of Students, Jason Ramirez, explaining that she did not feel comfortable helping the student. He was hospitalized that day and told Nelson he would only be released if she were the one to pick him up.
Nelson refused, only to be cornered by the student the next day at a band performance.
“I was so scared that I grabbed a part of my instrument, in case he was going to try and attack me. He then stated that he had ‘attempted’ suicide to get my attention because I had been ignoring him…That is when I realized that I needed to get help and that it was way more serious than I had previously thought,” Nelson said.
Nelson contacted SUU’s Title IX organization who advised her to file a police report with SUU’s campus police department. On February 12, a stalking injunction was set in place.
Despite the injunction, the student was still permitted to be in SUU classes with Nelson. After he violated the injunction a few weeks into the fall semester of 2018, an entire year after meeting him for the first time, Nelson began questioning the sincerity of Title IX.
Nelson talked to the professor who taught the class in which the perpetrator violated the injunction. Although aware of the injunction, the professor claimed to have not been paying enough attention to have noticed any inappropriate behavior.
“I was devastated and horrified all at the same time. He was supposed to ensure a safe environment for me, but instead admitted that he wasn’t paying attention. I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t taking my safety seriously and I felt like I truly was in danger,” Nelson said.
In January of 2019, the stalking injunction was violated again due to the fact that the student was allowed to be in SUU classes with Nelson. The same professor who ignored the first violation in 2018 had the male student sitting behind Nelson once again.
“During those classes, I was terrified. I was so vulnerable and they put someone who was disregarding a court order in a position to harm me. Again and again and again,” Nelson said.
Nelson was soon called into this professor’s office and told that she had lost her position in the musical ensemble she was a part of, presumably because of the complexity of her situation.
After launching an investigation through Title IX, there was not sufficient evidence to find the student guilty. Thus, the perpetrator would still be allowed on campus and in classes with Nelson.
Feeling like SUU was doing nothing to protect her, Nelson switched her major to avoid seeing the student, which resulted in a loss of her full-tuition scholarship. Although Nelson was innocent, she was the one facing the consequences.
“I wish that I would have been treated fairly. I wish that I didn’t have to be kicked out of classes and lose a full-tuition scholarship to just feel safe. SUU should have respected the court order and not allowed him to have classes with me. By allowing him in the same classes as me, SUU gave him all the opportunities to terrify me and torment me,” Nelson said.
During the time of Nelson’s trial with Title IX, University of Utah student Lauren McClusky was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, due to a lack of protection by the university.
Nelson now realizes that she was lucky.
“I easily could have been the next Lauren McLuskey. I was being ignored and mistreated just for being a victim and I want to bring awareness to that. Victims should not have to pay for what happened to them,” Nelson said.
Moving forward, Nelson hopes her lawsuit will force SUU, and universities at large, to re-examine their current Title IX policies and make them more victim-friendly.
“I feel as though universities are not taking victims seriously and it is simply too dangerous to ignore people like me. I hope that this allows SUU and Title IX to think about their policies and change them in order to help victims who are not safe on campus…I also hope that they take responsibility for what they did,” Nelson concludes.
SUU’s Title IX Department did not respond with a comment on Nelson’s case, however the university published a comment in an earlier article written by ABC4.
“Southern Utah University has notice of Ms. Nelson’s lawsuit. SUU generally does not comment on pending litigation. This matter is being handled by the Utah Attorney General’s Office who represents SUU. Southern Utah University is a place where the safety of our students is the top priority,” SUU said.
For Nelson, this lawsuit is the beginning of a long journey to seek justice and safety for herself and other potential victims.
Story by Amanda Walton
Photo Courtesy of The Spectrum