Hooters joke leads to harassment of conservative student
A sexual harassment accusation at Colorado State University (CSU) may have been used as political leverage to oust a conservative senator from his seat in the student government.
Student senator Juan Caro was accused of making an offensive joke about Hooters during a private conversation nearly six months ago, which has resulted in a sexual harassment investigation that is closing in on its seventh month. On at least two occasions, the accusation has been used against Caro in political contests, costing him his bid to become Speaker of the Student Senate.
Now, after being reviewed by the school’s Title IX office, the case has been passed along to a separate student conduct office for further review.
Caro reportedly made the joke during a private conservation, though the exact date of the incident remains unclear since witnesses in the case summary state that it occurred both in September and October.
During the conversation, Caro apparently made a reference to Hooters when responding to a comment from a fellow senator who remarked on the attractiveness of some of the new female senators whom Caro had recruited. While witnesses interviewed by the school offered conflicting accounts of the incident, Caro told Campus Reform he replied facetiously to the comment made by his colleague, saying “Yeah, I can make this place look like a Hooters if you want.”
However, all seven accounts of the comment as described in the school’s investigation vary significantly, with some witnesses claiming they don’t remember the initial conversation and others saying they might be confusing their recollection of the incident with an article that ran in the school’s newspaper at least three months after the fact.
Notably, that article only states that someone had made a Hooters comment without explicitly linking the comment to Caro, suggesting the possibility that the comment was only later attributed to him.
Additionally, there are several inconsistencies in a summary of the investigation that was obtained by Campus Reform, revealing that all seven witnesses who were interviewed by Alvarez offered differing accounts of the conversation.
The first witness, whose name is redacted (as were the names of all other witnesses), explained that Caro said “we need more hot women so it’ll look more like Hooters” and “we need to bring more women into the Senate.”
A second witness, however, stated that he didn’t remember everything about the conversation, but recalled Caro saying something along the lines of “awesome, but we don’t want to make Senate like a Hooters” or “Look, man, I don’t want to make this look like a Hooters.” According to this testimony, Caro’s comment was made only in an effort to rebuke a sentiment expressed by a fellow senator.
In testimony that was given nine days after the aforementioned story ran in The Rocky Mountain Collegian about the incident, another witness recalled hearing rumors of a Hooters comment being made, but did not hear the comment directly.
A fourth witness, however, claimed that in mid-September she overheard Caro saying that CSU’s female senators “should all work at Hooters”—an account strikingly inconsistent with testimonies offered by the first two witnesses.
Another claims that Caro told two other senators “that they needed to do their part in making Senate look more like a Hooters,” but also mentions her (the witness’) previous ambitions to impeach Caro, which she had given up on after determining that he “would have enough friends in the Senate that the impeachment would not have passed.”
A sixth witness stated he “couldn’t really remember the details of the conversation,” later admitting that it is possible he was actually recalling the incident as it was described in The Collegian.
The final witness, a school official who was initially made aware of the comment, explained that he couldn’t be sure that the female senator who made the report actually heard the comment directly. He even states that he was unaware of certain details surrounding the event until The Collegian article came out, mentioning political friction in the Senate office and previous attempts to impeach Caro.
Despite several inconsistencies throughout all seven testimonies, two mentions of previous ambitions to impeach Caro, and the discernable influence The Collegian article had over some witnesses, Alvarez concluded that “considering the totality of the information, facts, testimony, and evidence available from all sources in this investigation, I believe sufficient information exists to suggest sexual harassment may have occurred.”
However, the summary of the investigation itself indicates that the “totality of the information, facts, testimony, and evidence available from all sources” may not have been considered.
Indeed, the case summary lists 21 potential witnesses to the conversation while Alvarez interviewed only seven, and shows that even those seven witnesses offered conflicting information. Further, Caro requested on at least three occasions that Alvarez interview additional witnesses, including current female senators, but the case summary shows that his requests went unanswered.
“Most of the witnesses interviewed were referred by the same individuals making the accusations,” Caro told Campus Reform. “More than a majority of the witnesses I referred were not interviewed because the investigators said they ‘did not contact the other people identified as [they] did not feel they had information that would be helpful for this investigation.’ What I witnessed was a prosecution disguised as an investigation.”
Prior to the conclusion of the Title IX office’s investigation, which has now been submitted to a separate Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services, two separate motions to impeach Caro were advanced in the Student Senate, as evidenced by documents obtained by Campus Reform.
In both instances, Caro was threatened with impeachment on the grounds that he unconstitutionally cast a dissenting vote on two different bills—one of which was the controversial “Diversity Bill,” which nearly resulted in the impeachment of ten senators, including Caro, who voted against it.
In fact, both impeachment efforts came back-to-back in March, shortly after The Collegian article ran, and right around the time many of the witnesses were interviewed.
Caro told Campus Reform that he has been criticized in the Senate ever since he took over as the Senate Recruitment Officer in May 2015, and is often ridiculed for his recruitment tactics by some senators who accused him of only recruiting his friends or intentionally recruiting the most attractive women.
Caro, however, explained that he had started a conservative interest group on campus from which he recruited some senators who were previously involved in the movement, saying that his more progressive colleagues were hesitant to welcome conservative views.
“[The Student Senate] was a nice, peaceful place where everybody agreed,” he told Campus Reform. “These girls (the ones who proffered the initial accusation) knew what they were doing and started stirring stuff up,” he asserted, adding that the investigation even points out that they had wanted to impeach him.
The unidentified official to whom the female senators initially reported the incident pointed out that “up until the diversity bill discussion, everything around Caro was ‘pretty quiet. It was just Caro being Caro’ and people didn’t take it too seriously,” the case summary confirms.
Caro told Campus Reform that the accusation has been used against him in at least two political campaigns—one for the Senate speaker seat, and another for reelection, and says it cost him a victory in the former.
“The accusations and investigation were used against me in both personal and political attacks for over [eight] months. I was publicly harassed, insulted, slandered, humiliated, and my character was assassinated during multiple occasions,” he said. “This included my reelection as a senator and my campaign as speaker. These accusations cost me a potential job and have affected me both mentally and academically.”
Caro went on to say that the investigation is a threat to freedom of speech on college campuses, where conservatives are routinely harassed and intimidated.
“This kind of prosecution is the very reason why we see self-censorship at college campuses—students try to avoid what I experienced,” he said. “We cannot afford to allow this kind of behavior on college campuses, [which] are supposed to be the epitome of free thought and discussion. Instead of suppressing ideas that vary from the majority we must encourage them.”
Campus Reform reached out to Alvarez to discuss the findings of his investigation, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
The investigation, which is closing in on its seventh month, is still ongoing and the case could potentially be punted to the fall semester. Even though there were at least four others partaking in the conversation, Caro is the only senator under investigation.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski