Former CNU Students Speak Out on their Experience with the Title IX Office

Petition Garners over 2,500 signatures and Community Demands Change


Pictured by Evelyn Davidson

On April 14, The Virginian-Pilot published an article in which three former CNU students, Brooke Nixon, Emily Sullivan and Caroline Tsui, shared their sexual assault stories and detailed their interactions with the university’s Title IX office. They explained that the treatment they received from the Title IX office added to their already traumatic experience.

The details of The Pilot’s article quickly gained traction within the CNU community, sparking a large response from students who voiced their support and shared similar stories to that of Nixon, Sullivan and Tsui. 

Following the article’s publication, the three women released an open letter to the CNU administration, outlining the specific changes that they wanted to see implemented within the Title IX office. Some of these changes include clarification on how the university will handle cases in which the perpetrator is of senior class standing, upholding university no-contact orders, increased protection for FERPA and other sensitive files and a “critical look” at the current Title IX staff. The letter garnered over twenty pages of CNU student, alumni, faculty and staff signatures. 

CNU’s sexual assault awareness club, Where Is The Line (WITL), began a petition urging the university to acknowledge The Pilot’s article and start implementing the changes detailed in the open letter. As of Tuesday, April 18, the petition had roughly 2,600 signatures.

Club president, Faith Tanous, wrote in an email, “Where Is The Line works closely with the Title IX Office, and we don’t want to lose that connection, but we are very disheartened to hear how Brooke, Emily, and Caroline were treated. We really want to create change on our campus and within our community.”

The day after The Pilot article’s release, The Captain’s Log reached out to Nixon to talk about her story and the response she’s received from fellow CNU community members.

Nixon recently graduated from CNU in spring of 2022, but during her time at the university, she tried to be involved in any way that she could. She was part of the Honors Program and the President’s Leadership Program, president of the Student Honor Council, president of Upsilon Pi Epsilon and a part of Serve the City. 

Nixon explained that near the end of the months-long investigation by CNU’s Title IX office, from March to the end of July, 2022, she wanted to make sure the administration was aware of the issues she faced while pursuing her case. In July, she met with Interim President Adelia and brought with her an extensive letter she wrote about her concerns that included transcripts of meetings with Title IX staff. 

She heard little back from administrators after this meeting, which prompted her to take action beyond the university. 

However, going public was never her initial plan, Nixon said, “I just wanted this to be handled at the CNU level. It’s not an easy thing, nor is it ever something I certainly planned to do, to publicly share my story.”

She felt unheard and believed the university community should know about the challenges she and others she knew had faced. Nixon went on to share her story with The Pilot. She told them that she was discouraged by the Title IX office from pursuing her case against the perpetrator because it would interfere with that person’s graduation. In addition, documents containing personal information about another person’s case were shared accidentally by a CNU Title IX staff member. 

Nixon told The Captain’s Log that if she could do her case over again, she would’ve gone to the police and made sure to know her rights. 

After coming forward with her story, dozens of other students messaged Nixon to share similar frustrations with CNU’s Title IX office. 

CNU cares about their community and all schools make mistakes, Nixon said, but all survivors deserve to have a voice too. 

“Our intention is never for this to be an attack on CNU. We’re doing this because we love and care about CNU and we want to work in collaboration with them to help improve this for students to come,” Nixon said. 

The Captain’s Log also talked with Emily Sullivan, another CNU alumnae whose story was featured in The Pilot article. 

In her time at CNU, Sullivan was part of the Marching Captains, Zeta Tau Alpha fraternity and Student Honor Council. She majored in political science with a double minor in psychology and leadership studies. Sullivan originally planned to double major, but dropped one of her majors so that she could graduate a semester early. Sullivan graduated in December 2019, because she felt it was too difficult for her to stay at CNU after her experience. The Title IX investigation concluded by deeming her a willing participant, reported The Pilot. 

When asked why she felt it was important to come forward, Sullivan told The Captain’s Log, “It’s one thing to have your body violated, but it’s another to have those who are supposed to protect you also violate you.” 

She added, “I am still in therapy to this day. And the trauma that I’m dealing with, is dealing with how the institution failed me instead of getting over my rape.”

Sullivan explained that she had to take two classes with the person that she said raped her, depsite the university imposing a no-contact order. In addition, she alleges that she was discouraged from running for President of the Student Honor Council because she had been outspoken about her negative experience with CNU’s Title IX office. 

When asked if she was nervous to speak out, Sullivan said she expected a negative reaction similar to the response she says she received in 2018, instead, she has been moved to tears by the positive response by the community. 

Navigating the Title IX process, Sullivan said, “I had to decode this policy on my own at 19 with PTSD, afraid out of my mind because my rapist lived on the floor beneath me in my residence hall.” Now, Sullivan and many others want transparency and accountability for the entire process.

Sullivan had met Nixon when they both interned for Fear 2 Freedom, the sexual assault awareness non-profit founded by Rosemary Trible. Sullivan became connected with Caroline Tsui, the third CNU alumna to speak in The Pilot article, when she was compiling narratives to present when filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

Tsui, a 2020 CNU graduate, was told that there would be a task force created for the Title IX office, but that never happened, reported The Pilot. 

When asked if she was nervous to speak out and why she felt it was important, Tsui wrote in an email to The Captain’s Log, “People have been messaging and telling me how brave I was, but I didn’t feel brave, just scared. But I knew the Title IX process at CNU was so backward, stressful, and just plain wrong that it needed scrutiny. I couldn’t just let it continue quietly ruining student’s lives.”

WITL hosted an open forum on Monday at 6 p.m. where students could ask questions, voice frustrations, and share their own experiences. Students and faculty filled a lecture room in Luter Hall, with so many in attendance that several stood for the duration of the forum.  Both Nixon and Sullivan were in attendance and briefly spoke.

Late Monday morning, Thompson issued an email to the CNU community, acknowledging that she had read the open letter. She also said she will meet with WITL’s leadership later in the week to go over what was learned from the open discussion and intends to share this with fellow CNU administrators. Thompson pledged to “listen and engage with our student leaders to continue these conversations and find our best way forward together.”

The Captain’s Log reached out for an official statement from the university on Friday evening and they responded Monday evening, reiterating Thompson’s pledge and stating that they were pleased about the open forum.