Cassandra Strickland was a star volleyball player at the University of Washington when she says an executive in the athletic department offered her a ride home, then sexually assaulted her in his truck.
She hesitated for months before reporting it to school officials, who investigated and found her allegations against senior associate athletic director Roy Shick to be credible, and that the sexual contact was unwanted.
The school reached a settlement with Strickland, agreeing to pay for up to $20,000 in therapy on the condition she waive any claims against the school.
Hardly anyone was told of the investigation’s findings. Not even police.
By the end of the investigation in March 2018, Shick had resigned and was working as vice president of a Seattle startup, and UW athletic department staff were told he decided to “take on a new challenge.”
Less than a year later, Shick was hired as vice president of Grand Canyon University, a private college in Arizona. Administrators didn’t know about the UW’s finding until being contacted by The Seattle Times on Friday, according to a university spokesman. The school put Shick on administrative leave, then fired him Sunday, the spokesman said.
Colleges are required to investigate reports of sexual violence, but those findings don’t appear on background checks and schools have broad discretion over what to share with the public, police or prospective employers. In fact, federal law doesn’t require schools to share such information with each other.
UW only shared the finding with a small group of university and athletic department officials and, following Strickland’s wishes, did not report it to police, which it says is in line with university policy. Experts say this practice is common among colleges, which keep misconduct as confidential as possible to avoid legal risk, allowing employees to move between schools with their new employers left in the dark.
While Shick, 42, was made ineligible for rehire at the UW, no record of his misconduct followed him.
Shick did not participate in the investigation and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Strickland agreed to have her name used in this story.
“My story is not unique. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other girls at other universities, whose stories are being buried to protect the reputation of the schools they attend,” Strickland said in an email. “It’s a problem, it’s been a problem for far too long and we need to change that.”
The investigation and the settlement agreement can only be obtained through a public-records request, which is how The Seattle Times learned of the finding.
Strickland said she felt pressured to sign the settlement agreement in January. She was playing volleyball abroad and wanted to put what happened behind her. So she said after UW Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen, whom she considered a friend, reached out a few times offering to have the university pay for therapy, she figured she might as well sign and didn’t have an attorney review it first.
In a statement sent Tuesday night, athletic department spokesman Jay Hilbrands said the department felt it provided “the best possible support” to the athlete because it encouraged her to seek legal counsel and did not require that she keep the agreement confidential.
“Throughout the entirety of this situation, our top priority was the well-being of the student, protecting them and adhering to their wishes,” Cohen said in the statement.
Universities can enter into settlements, which commonly include a release from claims, with students, said Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe, who has represented sexual-assault survivors in other cases against UW. But, she said, “I absolutely don’t think they are doing the right thing.”
Roe said she doubts Strickland could have known what she was entering into if she didn’t have an attorney review the agreement. She said the university should have considered paying for one to look at the agreement before Strickland signed it.
The agreement also stipulated that Strickland had to sign a release allowing the university access to her counseling records to check on her participation and progress in treatment.
“I find that totally and completely offensive,” Roe said. “The Catholic Church used to try to do that.”
A ride home
In 2017, Strickland, then 23, was heading to the UW volleyball locker room when Shick pulled up in his truck and offered her a ride home. They had just returned to campus from an annual spring event for the Tyee Club, the fundraising arm of the athletic department that Strickland interned for and Shick oversaw.
Shick was making more than $250,000 a year handling external affairs. He had been in the role since 2016, when Cohen, the athletic director, brought him back from the University of Texas in one of her first significant hires. Before that, he’d raised funds for the Huskies for six years.
There had been alcohol at the event, and Strickland, who had been drinking, described the night as “blurry.” Worried about driving home, she accepted Shick’s offer.
The spouse of an athletic department employee saw her get into Shick’s truck, he later told investigators, and assumed Shick was giving her a ride home.
But Strickland said Shick instead drove behind the campus baseball fields, where he parked and began kissing her, according to the final report from the university’s investigation.
Strickland told investigators she felt frozen as Shick took off her shorts, but shook her head no when he asked for oral sex. She said Shick groped her, then penetrated her “with his fingers and penis,” according to the report. Strickland said she didn’t give consent, and that Shick didn’t ask for it.
She said Shick pulled up her shorts and his pants, got in the front seat and started the truck. She said Shick drove her to her car and told her to kiss him before he left.
Strickland still didn’t feel like she should drive, so she went to the UW locker room, where she slept that night.
Filing a report
In the following days, Strickland told a friend what happened and said she hadn’t been able to eat. She slept at her best friend’s house most nights for a month after what she described to her friend as sexual assault. She also confided in the athletic department’s sports psychologist.
But she was hesitant to report, according to her friends, who later spoke to investigators. She worried about her family finding out, as well as Shick’s wife and children. And she was still grappling with what happened, which was hard for her to talk about.
Strickland continued to see Shick at work and social events, where, she said, he once blew a kiss in her direction and winked at her on another occasion, according to the report. She decided not to coach a summer camp after graduating to avoid seeing him.
In September 2017, the athletic department’s sports psychologist, Cassie Pasquariello, arranged for Strickland to speak anonymously to the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (UCIRO), which handles discrimination complaints against employees.
Investigators from the office explained the process and noted that Strickland seemed concerned about others finding out if she filed a report.
The next month, Pasquariello described a hypothetical scenario to two athletic department employees to see if she could get UW to fund Strickland’s therapy. One employee told Cohen, who then told Shick, about a potentially abusive situation involving a person in power and student-athlete, the investigator found.
Soon after, Shick called Strickland. It was after midnight, and they talked for eight minutes, according to phone records obtained in the investigation. Strickland texted Pasquariello after that.
“Roy just called about some situation that resembles mine and his,” she wrote, according to the investigation report.
She said Shick asked if she had spoken to Pasquariello.
Strickland made a report to UCIRO a few weeks later, and Cohen learned of the allegations soon after. While Strickland ultimately decided not to move forward with the investigation, it went forward at Cohen’s request.
Shick was placed on administrative leave and was barred from athletic venues and events, as well as from contacting department staff or athletes.
On Jan. 5, 2018, two months after the investigation started, Shick resigned. A letter Cohen sent to her staff said Shick left to “take on a new challenge” at SnapRaise, a Seattle fundraising startup that works with educational and athletic programs, where he would be vice president. It made no mention of the investigation.
“We wish him all the best in his new endeavor,” the letter said.
The university completed its investigation in March 2018, after interviewing 29 witnesses who were at the 2017 event or familiar with Shick or Strickland. The investigator interviewed five people Strickland had spoken to in the months following the incident and found they gave consistent accounts.
Strickland was “extremely credible” and had no motive to fabricate the report, the investigator wrote.
Shick did not participate, but the investigation found his behavior amounted to sexual harassment, defined by UW and federal policy as a range of actions including sexual assault. It also found he was in a position to be “enormously influential” over Strickland’s career.
The findings were only disclosed to those with a “business need to know,” said UW spokesman Victor Balta. In Shick’s case, those were UW President Ana Mari Cauce, athletic director Cohen and a handful of employees in the athletic department and the university’s legal, human resources and investigative offices.
“We followed our detailed protocols during the entirety of the incident,” Cohen said in an emailed statement. “Our actions both during and following the investigation make our commitment to zero-tolerance for sexual assault clear.”
While colleges are allowed to inform law enforcement about alleged sexual violence, most only do this if the survivor requests it, said Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators.
Shick returns to a university
Grand Canyon University hired Shick as its vice president for advancement in November, said university spokesman Bob Romantic. Shick left SnapRaise for the position in February, according to his former manager at the company.
Grand Canyon administrators were unaware of the finding against Shick when he was hired, Romantic said in an email. A background check didn’t reveal any misconduct.
While universities sometimes investigate misconduct that could amount to a crime, those findings do not show up on background checks, as these investigations typically operate outside the realm of the criminal-justice and legal systems.
Prospective employers are sometimes able to learn of misconduct when contacting universities for a reference check. Romantic said he couldn’t comment on whether Grand Canyon did this before hiring Shick.
Even if the college did check, UW’s human-resources department would only disclose misconduct if specifically asked, Balta said. And specifics of the investigation wouldn’t be shared, although the findings could be obtained through a public records request.
Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law in Florida, said lawmakers should address a lack of communication between colleges about findings, which has allowed abusive employees to move between schools in a way some have compared to the Roman Catholic Church.
“If we’re going to be asked to run ‘college court,’ then with that should come some of the transparency and accountability features that you see with an actual criminal justice system,” he said.