ABAC Fails Sexual Harrasment Victim

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1422

By: Chasidy Ruth

Editor-In-Chief

Bethany Rentz is a survivor of sexual harassment, which she overcame during her time in high school. Unfortunately, Bethany would allegedly be a target for this same action again in college. Rentz released a document listing her traumas on her personal Facebook titled “ABAC’s Abuse of Power – Title IX & Sexual Harassment” This document entailed her experiences in her ABAC class on the Bainbridge campus.

These events are alleged from the perspective of Bethany Rentz — who was just eighteen at the start of her title IX investigation against ABAC professor John Vanzo. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 forbids sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal financial support. ABAC has this statement on their website, “ABAC will not tolerate sexual misconduct, which is prohibited, and which includes, but is not limited to, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, and stalking. ABAC strongly encourages members of the College community to report instances of sexual misconduct promptly.

These policies and procedures are intended to ensure that all parties involved receive appropriate support and fair treatment and that allegations of sexual misconduct are handled in a prompt, thorough, and equitable manner. This quote holds ABAC’s signature, and promises to its community that it will protect and defend the rights and interests of its people. This would be the same system that would impact Bethany Rentz so heavily. The stallions investigation cites many sources— like the Vanzo v. Rentz hearing as well as Bethany’s whistleblower document.

We also reached out to witnesses and sources to speak with us about this case as well as the title IX system altogether.

The first incident came about on November 9, 2020: That day in class, Dr. Vanzo was demonstrating different powers in Congress, and he used personas to depict different perspectives of societal stereotypes. According to Bethany’s tell-all “He went up to a Black woman in our class and said, ‘She comes up asking for a job, but I don’t wanna hire no Black woman!’ in a fake Southern accent. Then he came up to me as a follow-up example and said, ‘Ooh, I wanna hire a pretty little white girl! What business wouldn’t want a pretty little white girl working the cash register?

I wanna hire a pretty little white girl!’ And I was like, ‘Thanks,’ kinda quiet and laughing, and he said back, ‘Yeah! I mean, look at her, she’s hot! [If I worked with her,] I’d be sexually harassing her the minute she walked in!” Immediately after the comment, (Bethany laughed it off and was puzzled by the interaction. Bethany would not emotionally process this until the next year.

December 18, 2020: Bethany attended a Jon Ossoff rally. At the rally, with her mom and her sister Rosie, she ran into Dr. Vanzo. At this point, as she still had not fully processed the events from November 9, they were still on good terms. She was surprised to see him there, and he introduced them to his wife and child.

Bethany, Rosie, and Vanzo talked about how our holiday breaks were going, and he asked what we had been up to. Rosie answered that we were just watching TV and videos. He then asked, “Porn again?” They met this with laughter, throwing their heads back and turning away out of shock and embarrassment. Through their laughter, they corrected him that, no, of course, they had not been watching porn, and certainly not “again.”

December 20, 2020: Bethany enrolled in Dr. Vanzo’s Human geography class.

Late February 2021: Bethany had to miss a class due to cramps, a symptom of menstruation. Her sister, Rosie Rentz, went to Dr. Vanzo’s office after class to get Bethany’s make-up work. Rosie would indicate to him that Bethany “wasn’t feeling well” There, allegedly according to Rosie Rentz, Vanzo made comments about her being pregnant. Instead of an “I hope she feels better!” or even just an “Okay,” in front of another student, Dr. Vanzo asked her, “Is she pregnant?”.

Bethany began her title IX process by filing a formal complaint against her then-professor Dr. Vanzo the week of March 3, 2021. Bethany had gone through this process in high school and was terrified of the ramifications. Bethany got the courage to contact an ABAC counselor to discuss what had been happening to her. Once told of Bethany’s traumas, The ABAC Counselor informed Bethany that she did not take formal complaints and gave her the contact information of one of the title IX coordinators. Bethany then forwarded an email that stated Dr. Vanzo was formally under investigation.

March 8, 2021: Bethany returned to the last class she would have with Dr. Vanzo. Bethany began showing signs of fear for what she had done. Bethany’s account stated, “I found it extremely difficult to look up during class, much less look at him.

I couldn’t. I felt guilty, but I also felt scared that he already knew, or that he could tell a difference in my behavior.” On that day Vanzo was talking to another student and stated, “I’m like Harvey Weinstein in that way,” according to Rentz. While Rentz wasn’t fully paying attention to the conversion unfolding, he still addressed the class with this comment. She dropped the class the same day.

March 17, 2021: Bethany met with two other professors at the Bainbridge campus to discuss the toll the investigation was beginning to have on her. An excerpt from her document stated, “I could very vaguely explain my situation since the process had begun to take such a toll, and I was worried that it would impact my grades or attendance in the future. I was ultimately unable to meet with them after having a horrible anxiety attack over it, terrified of how they might react to what I had to say. Rosie spoke to them for me instead, and they were extremely kind, reassuring, and understanding, offering their support and extensions for classwork and absences from honors meetings. But at the same time, they treated me like everyone else, like I wasn’t some atomic, emotional bomb ready to explode at any moment. They didn’t judge me.

I needed people in my life to understand and be supportive since it was so taboo and I didn’t have a lot of people around me that understood, so I’m thankful that they provided that for me.”

March 15, 2021: Bethany met with the Title IX investigators who asked her to supply a list of witnesses for her hearing. This began the Title IX investigators’ interviews with her witnesses and Dr. Vanzo. Five of Bethany’s witnesses’ testimonies were thrown out by the Title IX board due to a lack of cohesiveness or inability to remember details.

The next witness was the black student in front of her on November 9— , the one Dr. Vanzo first used as an example that day. She confirmed her testimony, though she said she never found Dr. Vanzo offensive. The last witness was The ABAC counselor, who confirmed all the psychological aspects of the case (Acute Trauma Response Disorder).

End of April 2021: The initial report was sent out; this was both parties’ opportunity to add any information they deemed necessary

May 4, 2021: That morning Bethany sobbed while reading Dr. Vanzo’s additional statement. “During the last two years as a result of this entire process, I’ve struggled immensely with severe and deep depression. All throughout 2021, I felt numb mostly, and hopeless. I was also in constant battles with the administration at school, so I never had enough time to sit with it and let it get too deep. It was this dormant type of depression that was just waiting for me to notice it finally. It was there, and I knew it, but I didn’t have time for it, so I ignored it. But it did manifest occasionally.” Rentz is now advocating for others by putting her story out there and letting her voice be heard. “I understand that in coming forward about my experiences at ABAC, I’m not only putting a target on my back, but l’m also possibly driving away a lot of professors, students, and faculty members. But that to me is a price I’m willing to pay if it means keeping others safe.” During the Stallion’s investigation of this title IX case, we reached out to ABAC for comment on the matter. “ABAC follows federal Title IX requirements and University System of Georgia policies for all Title IX cases and consults with University System staff as appropriate. We have a process in place that we must trust and follow. Our policy is not to comment on specific personnel matters within the institution.” – ABAC President Tracy Brundage.” s additional statement while she prepared for her day to begin. At the end of the report, the Title IX investigator recommended Dr. Vanzo be terminated from his job. She was impartial at the time but was shocked and surprised that her report had the power to strip someone of their job — or so she thought. This report was written by third-party party, Jimmy Ballenger who reviewed the case from both ends.

  He suggested that Vanzo did indeed Sexually harass Bethany, and that he deserved to be terminated for that offense. Vanzos’ additional statement painted Rentz out to be sad and claimed he’ had no complaints before this which would turn out to be  far from the truth.

The following statement is directly from the verdict of the Title IX advisor Jimmy Ballenger:

“Since the evidence provided throughout this investigation supports violations of the Sexual Misconduct policy, specifically Sexual Harassment (other than Student on Student) and the USG Ethics policy, specifically Sexual Harassment, this Investigator recommends that the Respondent be terminated from his position at ABAC.”

“‘Violation of non-harassment policy or creating a hostile work environment at a level that constitutes harassment. This includes, but is not limited to, stalking, and bullying, jokes/displays of electronic and social media, and other demeaning material targeting protective categories such as race, color, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability, or veteran status. Severe inappropriate conduct is also in this seriously grievous category.’ As outlined, the first-level violation of this guideline results in ‘Termination for Cause.’”   

Also, Vanzo claimed he had no prior complaints against him, in a statement that Dr. Baker sent to Bethany“Prior to my notification of the Title IX investigation, I had zero complaints or any indication of dissatisfaction by my students.’ This statement by [Vanzo] would not be consistent with the reports of the previous investigations referenced… The Respondent knew of prior complaints but failed to disclose them while stating that previously he has had ‘zero complaints.’ This shows the Respondent has a pattern of complaints about his teaching style/method for which he has acknowledged he would make changes. However, as the Hearing Officer, I was unable to find evidence that the Respondent has made any changes to his style or method of teaching or to accept responsibility for his actions.’”

LIST OF COMPLAINTS AGAINST JOHN VANZO [via report from Title IX officer Dr. Baker]:   

The Respondent has a history where he has made inappropriate comments to a classroom of students. According to a letter dated March 5, 2019, the Respondent agreed to refrain from using jokes, language, and actions outside of course content that might lead to student complaints.

There was an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint against the Respondent in February 2017. During this investigation, the Respondent stated he would be “happy to moderate my language in class.”

There was an investigation of a written complaint against the Respondent filed on August 9, 2012, alleging sexual harassment, racial comments, and disrespectful words. The outcome of this investigation concluded no violation of the sexual harassment policy. During this investigation, there was a reference to two additional complaints made by students in 2010 and 2011; no letters were found in his personnel file as to the outcome.

Vanzo also admitted he “sawed away at his wrists” When a student would do something small like forget a name on a paper and it took a student calling him out for that to change. 

 May 20, 2021: The day of the Vanzo v. Rentz Title IX hearing. Just a day before this hearing Bethany’s grandmother had passed away which added to the weight of this day for her. Bethany started the hearing with her fifteen-minute opening statement, while Vanzo had an opening statement over an hour long. “His statement was essentially the same as his addition to the investigation report, though he took the time to redo his lecture from November 9. Remember, he relied on the fact that the comments he made to me could not be a reason for punishment since he used a character voice, though I remember he dropped the Southern accent by the time he got to me; this was made more interesting when he redid the lecture during the hearing, and the accent, once again, faded away as he progressed and got to the comments about me. He said he was proud of that lecture.”

Vanzo then transitioned into his questioning. He began questioning Bethany’s ABAC counselor about stressors with her acute trauma response that Vanzo’s class has caused her. “This was something that was brought to light yesterday [May 19].

You know, acute stress disorder can come about… the death of a family member. So, there’s going to be added stress to Bethany as of yesterday. How is that going to affect her… and that’s not… I’m not sure how to word this,” trying to indicate that it could affect her during the hearing. Vanzo also brought in students from former classes to attest that he teaches well. Another witness Vanzo brought in was a woman from the Jon Ossoff rally who claims to have been around them during the time of the interaction. Bethany claims to have never seen her before.

She had this to say on the matter. “So, there’s no actual situation here that’s taken place… there’s a personality issue that’s taking place there, and maybe something needs to be addressed outside of the classroom… It was merely… actually just go ahead and defined as: She is another student in the classroom, so she is a participant in the classroom… Somehow, somebody was actually offended by something that takes place in a classroom every day… Sexual harassment didn’t take place here, but thanks anyway.”

This was Bethany’s worst moment in the hearing, someone who she didn’t recall ever seeing at the rally saying this during the hearing hurt her deeply. Vanzo extends an invitation to Bethany to help him compose a plan to fix his teaching, which she declines. Vanzo goes on to discredit the ABAC counselor’s diagnosis of the acute trauma response allegedly inflicted by his teaching.

May 27, 2021: Baker sent out the final decision on this case. “The Respondent was initially charged with the following policy violations: (The charges the Title IX advisor saw fit) USG Sexual Misconduct Policy (6.7.1)-Sexual Harassment (Other than Student on Student): Unwelcome verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct, based on sex (including gender stereotypes), that may be any of the following: 1. Implicitly or explicitly a term or condition of employment or status in a course, program, or activity. 2. A basis for employment or educational decisions; or 3. Is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to interfere with one’s work or educational performance creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment, or interfering with or limiting one’s ability to participate in or to benefit from an institutional program or activity. USG Ethics Policy-Sexual Harassment Policy (8.2.18.5): Unwelcome sexual advancements, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when: 1. Submission to such conduct is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or academic standing; or, 2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment or academic decisions affecting an individual; or, 3.

Such conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work or academic performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic environment. Based on the information gathered during the hearing, the Hearing Officer made the following findings for the above charges in the final verdict of this case: A preponderance of evidence supports the finding that the Respondent has used poor judgment in his use of examples and language. He has been insensitive and used phrases and examples that are considered unacceptable in the classroom today. The following facts were confirmed during the hearing: The Respondent (John Vanzo) did acknowledge the following testimony from his American Government class on November 9, 2020:

He pointed to an African American girl and said, “I might not want to hire her because she is black.” Then, he pointed to the Complainant and said, “Oh, but I’ll hire a pretty little white girl. Why wouldn’t I? Look at her. She’s hot. I’d be sexually harassing her the minute I hired her”. These comments were made in the classroom as examples of discrimination related to the Interstate Commerce Clause. The Respondent [Vanzo] did acknowledge the following testimony from a brief meeting during a political rally in December 2020, which the Complainant, her sister, Rosie Rentz, and her mother attended: The Respondent asked what they were up to, and Rosie responded by saying they have been staying home watching videos and TV. The Respondent then asked Ms. Rentz, “Have you been watching porn?”

The evidence and testimony provided indicate that the Respondent is responsible for his choice of examples in the classroom which led to the Complainant being unable to continue on the course. Although the Respondent has used this or similar examples in the past to discuss the Interstate Commerce Clause and has stated he would refrain from such in previous complaints, it was done so without regard to the sensitive nature and without considering the potential impact on a student being the subject of the example. The Respondent’s attempt at a “joke” at a political rally was inappropriate. Based on these experiences, the Complainant has suffered from Acute Trauma Response which resulted in the Complainant requesting to be removed from the course.

Instead of your dismissal under the following USG Policies: 8.2.18.5 or 6.7.1. A letter of Final Warning listing the conditions required will be issued directly to you and added to your personnel file. The letter of Final Warning is the last step to improve performance before termination.” This letter invalidated everything the third-party advisor would recommend. The purpose of a Title IX advisor — ( Jimmy Ballenger) — is a very important one that is designed to provide the Parties in a Title IX grievance process with assistance and support throughout the entire proceeding. Advisors should be familiar with the Title IX policy as well as other policies that may be implicated during a Title IX investigation.

The Title IX board lessened the charges previously recrommended by Ballenger against Vanzo and recommended a final warning. This decision comes after a hearing between all parties where Vanzo threatened to sue the school and state his retirement is coming up in just one year. This board made this choice with the hearing and charges included This warning shocked Bethany as she has been dealing with this hearing and all of the stress involved for almost a year. After this shocking blow, Bethany decided to appeal this verdict to then ABAC president David Bridges and the board of regents. She made a 40-page appeal and mailed it off in hopes of some form of justice for her trauma and harassment.

August 11, 2021: Bethany received this formal verdict from David Bridges, “Dear Ms. Rentz, Regarding your appeal of the findings of the ABAC Hearing Officer, Jerry Baker, on May 27, 2021, resulting from the hearing conducted by Baker on May 20, 2021, I have reviewed the record of the hearing and the testimony provided during that hearing and I affirm the Hearing Officer’s determination that the respondent’s comments and actions were inappropriate and insensitive, but that based on the record, they do not rise to the level of sexual harassment. Therefore, discipline of final warning stands in the case.”

Bethany lists some of the grief she went through after things concluded in her tell-all “Aside from those physical symptoms, I was also extremely angry, even though I’m generally not an angry person. During the investigation stage, I was almost always argumentative if I wasn’t completely withdrawn. Aside from this, I also battled with insecurities and eating disorders, fixating on my body image as a means of control to combat how out of control I felt. During the last two years as a result of this entire process, I’ve struggled immensely with severe and deep depression. All throughout 2021, I felt numb mostly, and hopeless.

I was also in constant battles with the administration at school, so I never had enough time to sit with it and let it get too deep. It was this dormant type of depression that was just waiting for me to notice it finally. It was there, and I knew it, but I didn’t have time for it, so I ignored it. But it did manifest occasionally.” Rentz is now advocating for others by putting her story out there and letting her voice be heard. “I understand that in coming forward about my experiences at ABAC, I’m not only putting a target on my back, but l’m also possibly driving away a lot of professors, students, and faculty members. But that to me is a price I’m willing to pay if it means keeping others safe.”

During The Stallion’s investigation of this title IX case, we reached out to ABAC for comment on the matter. “ABAC follows federal Title IX requirements and University System of Georgia policies for all Title IX cases and consults with University System staff as appropriate. We have a process in place that we must trust and follow. Our policy is not to comment on specific personnel matters within the institution.” – ABAC President Tracy Brundage.”

Photo of Bethany Rentz by Chasidy Ruth

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