“I’m still not sure exactly what it was, but all I know is that something f—ed-up happened that night,” Pitzer senior Isabelle Martin said. “All I remember is dancing with this guy, and the next minute I know I was in the hospital.”
Martin’s experience at CMC two years ago has been shrouded in confusion and suspicion. Although CMC’s administration has moved past what it refers to as Martin’s “incident” with date-rape drugs, the larger issues beneath her experience remain.
“The night started pretty early,” Martin explained.“Around 11 or something… we had a beer and then half a cup of this punch.”
Martin was found later that night lying in the parking lot on the Pitzer campus. She says the frightened students brought her back to her residence hall where she allegedly saw her RA and hall director. She has no recollection of the events.
“Apparently I was crazy and belligerent and knocked the [hall] director down,” she said.
Martin was quickly sent to the hospital. The response team in the ambulance phoned her parents, warning them that Martin might have been attempting suicide.
“This stuff is serious,” her parents said. “We had no idea what had happened. It has affected our daughter and our family. This stuff has wide-reaching effects.”
After over a week in bed, Martin and her parents pressed the CMC administration to charge the students responsible for holding the party.
“I thought the school handled the matter in a sensitive and cooperative way… It was taken very seriously,” Martin’s parents said.
Still, they were disillusioned by the investigation, which consisted of closed-door meetings and undisclosed deliberations.
“It was something to do with confidentiality,” said one of Martin's parents. “Pitzer didn’t know [what happened] and CMC couldn’t share the information. I wasn’t even allowed into the court room.”
After a lengthy investigation, three senior CMC students were charged but later acquitted. And although the college’s insurance covered Martin’s hospital bills, she was still disciplined at Pitzer for underage drinking.
After a traumatizing evening, Martin was shuffled from confidential testimonies and cross-examinations in front of both a judge and student jury at CMC to working off hours of community service at Pitzer.
Martin's is just one in a number of stories often left untold.
Katherine Roberts PZ ’11 had a similar experience to Martin's on the same night. She was found passed out on a campus bench. Like Martin, Roberts says she cannot be certain of the events that transpired between the time she blacked out and when she woke the next morning.
“No one at CMC or Pitzer has been able to fill in the blanks,” Roberts said.
Though she reported the incident, Roberts explained that she has mostly refrained from talking about it due to a lack of avenues to do so.
“There’s that joke about roofies,” she said. “But it's talked about in such a way that I didn’t really think that it would ever happen.”
While the incidents are left unreported, even more stories suggesting the existence of date rape drugs on campus have emerged through the grapevine.
On Feb. 4, John McDonald PO ’12 went out with a few friends to a party at CMC. The boys each had a beer or two before leaving Pomona’s campus, assuming that they would grab more drinks at the party. But McDonald’s night was cut short after he picked up a red cup and subsequently blacked out until the next morning.
“I got to the party, grabbed a cup, which was just on the table, poured some alcohol in it, and that was the end of the night,” McDonald said.
He can only speculate what happened between the hours of 11:00 p.m and 8:00 a.m. the next morning by piecing together stories from his friends.
“I had never heard about [date rape drugs being] on campus,” McDonald said. “I had no idea and had never really thought about it being an issue… I just figured we had our nice little bubble, but I guess not.”
Pomona Professor of Anthropology Jennifer Perry, who teaches the annual seminar “Altered States of Consciousness,” explained that students often do not hear of date rape drugs on campus because victims do not feel comfortable talking about their incidents.
“People don’t really want to talk about it, or even confirm it… so I worry this is more prevalent than we realize,” Perry said.
Indeed, these stories suggest that the drugs might be present on all five campuses.
In a recent interview, however, CMC Vice President of Student Affairs Jeff Huang said that date-rape drugs have not recently been a problem around campus.
“I have not heard of roofie use on CMC's campus this year. Actually I haven’t heard of roofies in a while. Yeah, sure, I’ve heard of allegations of it, and several times we’ve sent students to the hospital… but every single time it comes back negative,” he said.
Similarly, Pitzer Dean of Students Moya Carter openly dismissed the idea that Martin, or any other students at her school, had ever been given roofies or similar drugs.
“No, I haven’t [heard of any convincing cases of date-rape drugs on campus] because date rape drugs have the capability of knocking you on your ass for a certain period of time, a certain number of hours,” she said. “What I think I’ve seen from students who believe they may have come in contact with a date rape drug is after they have had a lot to drink.”
Both administrators encouraged students to come forward if they suspect that they have been drugged against their will in order to allow for further investigation.
“I don’t want someone slipping drugs into students' drinks,” Huang said. “It could be fatal. And not only the fatality of it, but the violation, so I would want to know.”
But one problem with date-rape drugs, sometimes called “roofies” or “club drugs,” is that they cannot be traced in a routine hospital examination.
“When a student comes in under the influence, we check for the basics: blood alcohol levels, cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, PCP, and Benzodiazapan,” said Mel Del Degan, a night nurse from Pomona Valley Medical Center. “Club drugs won’t show up.”
As a result, the use of these drugs—compounds ranging from Rohypnol to GHB to Soma to Ecstasy—goes unchecked.
More often than not, students experiencing blacked-out nights are assumed to have had too much to drink. And in addition to going undetected in routine hospital examination, the drugs can leave the body’s system in as few as 12 hours.
“The worst thing is that the victim is blamed,” said one of Martin’s parents. “[The assumption is always that] they probably just partied too hard.”
Because of the lack of knowledge and established avenues for redress, many students have simply kept silent after experiencing nights similar to those of Martin, Roberts and McDonald.
“I didn’t report it,” said Bailey Henderson SC ‘12, another victim. “I hadn’t done anything to report, and people don’t believe you anyway.”
Dr. Gary Degrode, Director of the Monsour Counseling Center, said that 95 percent of sexual assault cases he sees involve alcohol. Of those cases, it remains unknown how many students were under the influence of drugs administered against their will.
“Many times students will come in and they won’t know exactly what happened as much as ‘something was different,’” he explained. “[They explain that] they have been drunk before and were drinking that night, but they were affected a lot more.”
Many feel that the schools need to take a more active role in seeking out these stories.
“We need to keep the discussion going,” Perry said. “These issues are alive and well. It’s our responsibility to keep talking.”
All student names in this article were changed for the sake of anonymity.