UW’s Unequal Treatment of Student-to-Student Violence: The Case of Jarred Ha

By Jennifer Chun
Associate Editor, Vol. 21
Contributing Editor, Vol. 22

NOTE: Revised January 31, 2017.

On January 25, 2015, a University of Washington (UW) junior named Jarred Ha[1] was involved in a violent incident with Maddison Story, a female UW student (and a rugby player) and Graham Harper, a male UW student.[2] Before the incident occurred, Ha and Story were tenants of the same apartment building.[3] According to Ha, Story “routinely took up two parking spots . . . which had become a sore subject among the other tenants.”[4] When he saw her outside a dorm where many UW rugby players resided, he approached her and suggested that she needed “to park straighter.”[5]

Depending on who you ask, what happened afterwards varies significantly. But it is undisputed that a fight broke out between the two after Ha made this comment.[6] Soon, multiple women (up to four, according to Ha) and eventually Harper joined the fight against Ha.[7] Ultimately, Ha ended up using his knife against Harper.[8] The knife was “a Karambit . . . with a curved, 2 ¼-inch fixed blade” he had received from his father as a gift for self-defense purposes.[9] When 911 was called, Harper was found with stab wounds or cuts on his left leg, chest, and groin.[10] His abdomen was punctured, “causing a small section of intestine to protrude.”[11]

Unlike the media coverage of this incident that focused on the disputed violence between Harper and Ha, this blog entry focuses on UW’s unequal treatment of the three students. In particular, it criticizes UW for failing to treat Story and Harper in the same manner as it did with Ha when all the publicly accessible evidence in totality suggests that it is not unreasonable to believe Ha’s version of what happened. Story and Harper are White.[12] Ha is Asian.[13]

I write this entry to suggest that this incident involved racial and sex-related prejudices and articulate why the evidence I could gather does not support the clean-cut, mainstream narrative that Story was the victim, Harper was the hero, and Ha was the perpetrator.

One blogger asks readers to swap the race of Ha and Harper and ask ourselves if we “truly believe that Jarred Ha would have been described in the same way if he was white and Harper was Asian?”[14] I want to go beyond and ask, do our colleges and universities treat the involved students unequally in cases of student-to-student violence where at least one of the involved students is of different race and/or sex from the others? If so, does the treatment significantly differ if the perceived perpetrator is male (versus female) and/or Asian (versus any other race, including White)? Against the backdrop of an affirmative action debate in its relation to Asian American students,[15] we should also wonder if our nation’s colleges and universities are treating their enrolled Asian American students differently from their peers based on their race.

Ha vs. Story

According to Story, Ha was the initial aggressor and attacker. The following narrative comes from the statement she provided in her petition for a temporary protection order against Ha, which she filed two days after the incident.[16] She was leaving her friend’s birthday party when she recognized Ha standing outside the rugby house.[17] She approached him and said hello (what happened up to this point seems undisputed, as Ha also corroborated this in his interview with the Seattle Times).[18] Ha responded by asking her “why [she] was making such a big deal out of” the parking situation, which she attributed to Ha and the other tenants for causing it.[19] She “sarcastically” replied that the situation was “their [sic] fault.”[20] At her reply, Ha “began to get aggressive” and called her a “‘fucking bitch.’”[21] An altercation ensued, after which Ha pushed her to the ground or punched her, causing her to fall to the ground.[22] Then Story’s friend and a fellow UW rugby player named Victoria Shimizu[23] “approached [Ha] to . . . hold him back from attacking [Story] . . . .”[24] But Ha slammed her to the ground and “proceeded to punch her in the face.”[25]

Shimizu corroborated Story’s version, with slight variations.[26] She told the police that Ha did punch her in the face and slammed her to the ground when she started pulling Story, not Ha, away from the fight.[27]

According to Ha, this is a flat-out lie. Ha said that Story threw the first punch on his head.[28] “She swung again, he blocked the blow, and she ended up on the ground. As he reached to help her up . . . he was punched in the head from behind as up to four other women joined the fray.”[29] He fought back, and “[a]t least one of his punches connected, blackening a woman’s eye.”[30] This might have been when he punched Shimizu. “As Ha and his friend [who was at the scene] walked away, the women yelled taunts and one followed the men a short distance, swatting at Ha’s head.”[31]

Two witnesses who had no prior connection to Ha, Story, or Harper corroborated his allegation that Story and the other women attacked Ha even after Ha removed himself from the scene:

They saw the first woman fall to the ground and watched Ha walk away as “this other girl was punching and slapping him in the head,” said [Shane] Colburn. “He wasn’t hitting her back, more like blocking her strikes,” said Colburn, 22, who along with [Elana] Helfand testified at Ha’s trial.[32]

UW prohibits its students from engaging in “abuse of others” and “abuse of the student conduct process.”[33] The first includes an “assault and other forms of physical abuse of any person, or any conduct intended to threaten bodily harm or to endanger the health or safety of any person.”[34] The second includes “knowingly making false allegations of misconduct under this conduct code.”[35]

Even if Ha did indeed use physical force against Story and/or Shimizu, the evidence does not exclusively favor Story’s version of what happened, which was corroborated by a single biased witness. In fact, it suggests that she might have also violated these two provisions of UW’s Student Conduct Code as an initial aggressor and/or an active participant in a group battery against one student.[36] At the very least then, UW should have treated Story and Ha equally in terms of academic discipline.

Yet UW clearly treated Ha as a perpetrator and Story as a victim from day one. After learning of the incident, UW organized academic disciplinary hearings where it ordered Ha to take an alcohol-safety class.[37] According Ha, he had been drinking before the incident but was not drunk.[38] UW then placed Ha on an “emergency suspension” for over a year.[39] This suspension prohibited Ha from physically entering part of the UW’s campus, including its classrooms.[40] UW, however, failed to inform any of Ha’s professors why he could not attend classes for the rest of that quarter.[41] Consequently, he received failing grades in all of his classes and was placed on academic probation.[42] The probation lifted only after Ha applied for hardship withdrawal.[43]

As far as I could tell, Story did not face any discipline from UW or her rugby team because of her involvement in this incident. Unlike Ha, she was never suspended from UW or her rugby team.[44] In fact, Story served on the executive board of UW Women’s Rugby Club from 2015 to 2016.[45]

When I read the drastically different versions of the incident between Story and Ha, I could not help but suspect that UW might have responded to these two students so differently because Story is female, and Ha is male. Is it really that implausible to believe that a female college rugby player could have beaten up a male college student?

I was unable find a reliable source for average body measurements of female college rugby players. So I asked my college friend who played rugby for four years at our alma mater, if Ha’s version of the incident is so difficult to believe. When she learned of Ha’s weight, she replied no, noting that Ha was fairly lightweight for a man in his late teens or early twenties.[46]

An average American male of 20 years or older is 5’ 9.3’’ and weighs 195 lbs.[47] An average American female of 20 years or older is 5’ 3.8’’ and weighs 166.2 lbs.[48] At the time of the incident, Ha was 5’ 9’’ and weighed 152 lbs.,[49] weighing 14.2 lbs. lighter than an average American woman. Unfortunately, I could not locate any public record mentioning Story’s weight and height to make a comparison to Ha’s.

Ha vs. Harper

At the time of the incident, Harper “was 19 at the time [with] a blood alcohol content [BAC] of 0.13, well above the legal limit of 0.02 for those under 21.”[50] To give you a perspective of how drunk he was that night, an adult (21 and over) driver showing at least 0.08 BAC may be charged with DUI in Washington.[51]

According to the same witnesses mentioned above, Harper chased after Ha and grabbed him after the fight between Ha and Story was over.[52] Harper acknowledged slamming Ha into a parked car once.[53] He speculated that he gave Ha “no more than black eye” from that action.[54] Ha and the witnesses disagreed, claiming Harper repeatedly slammed Ha into the car several times.[55]

One of the unbiased witnesses who supported Ha’s version said, “Harper came out of the house [where he was partying] and went ‘full-on sprinting’ after Ha, ‘yelling something to the effect of, “You never hit girls”. . . I remember being concerned this was escalating now—the way he was running was aggressive.’”[56]

Following Ha’s arrest that night, Harper was hailed as a hero and a protector of women by his fraternity brothers and the media.[57] The same blogger from above observed that the narrative from this media coverage “repeated a concept inherently and easily acceptable to the population. White men protect women, they are ‘heroes’ and Asian men are angry and cowardly and attack women over trivial things.”[58] I disagree with this blogger that the second part of the narrative regarding Asian men is “inherently and easily acceptable to the population.”[59] But returning to the question this same blogger posed earlier, I could not help but wonder if the media coverage would still have been decisively against Ha had the two men been of the same race or had their races been swapped.

On January 15, 2016, Ha was found not guilty by a King County jury for a first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and fourth-degree assault for punching a young woman (again, I suspect this was Shimizu) in the face.[60] The same jury additionally found that Ha employed lawful force in self-defense against Harper when he used the knife.[61] Harper likened the result of the trial to O.J. Simpson’s.[62]

Like Story, Harper was never suspended from UW because of his involvement in the incident.[63] As far as I could tell, he also did not face any academic discipline from UW, not even an order to take an alcohol-safety class. After the trial, Harper filed a civil suit against Ha for medical costs.[64]

On February 23, 2016, UW notified Ha that his suspension was lifted.[65] Ha was an accounting major at UW’s Foster School of Business before his arrest.[66] He returned to campus on March 2016 to finish his accounting degree, but only after being forced to reapply to UW as a returning student because his emergency suspension was so long.[67] According to Ha, UW failed to “follow procedure described in the Washington Administrative Code in lifting the emergency suspension,” “forc[ing] him to withdraw from two consecutive quarters and then reapply as a returning student for [the 2016] spring quarter[.]”[68] Ha also said that UW “asked him to sign an agreement requiring his attendance at alcohol consumption classes” as a prerequisite for re-reapplication.[69]

Ha’s supporters say that the emergency suspension was inconsistent with UW’s policies.[70] Since Ha’s suspension, the student senate of the Associated Students of the University of Washington has called for UW to revise and clarify its policies on emergency suspensions.[71] It passed a resolution on March 29, 2016 that recommends UW to expedite a UW student’s re-admission process when that “student is served with an emergency suspension, and [the] subsequent legal procedures force that student to withdraw . . . .”[72] Since then, the resolution “has been forwarded to administration members, including UW president Ana Mari Cauce.”[73]

[1] Madelyn Reese, UW student accused of assault cleared, readmitted, The Daily of the Univ. of Wash. (Feb. 26, 2016) [hereinafter Reese], http://www.dailyuw.com/news/article_d1619c56-dc48-11e5-83ea-c34b211565f5.html.

[2] Sara Jean Green, Cleared after stabbing, former UW student wants his life back, Seattle Times (originally published Feb. 4, 2016, 7:03 PM; updated Feb. 5, 2016, 3:19 PM) [hereinafter Seattle Times], http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/cleared-after-stabbing-ex-uw-student-wants-his-life-back/.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. (quoting Jarred Ha).

[6] Compare id. (“The woman punched Ha in the head, according to Ha and the defense’s trial brief.”), with Police Report at 2 (Jan. 25, 2015, 3:18 AM), Cty. of King v. Ha (King Cty. Dist. Ct. Jan. 26, 2015) (No. 215002303) (“According to Story, she and . . . Jarred Ha got into a verbal argument over a parking space at their apartment complex. During the argument Ha became upset and punched Story . . . .”).

[7] Seattle Times (“[Ha] said, he was punched in the head from behind as up to four other women joined the fray. . . . [Harper] said in an interview that he came out of the rugby house, saw a girl crying and inserted himself between Ha and the women.”); Police Report 2 (“Witness Shane Colburn and Elana Helfand both stated they saw Harper run after Ha and yell something to the effect of ‘you don’t hit girls’. Harper then pushed Ha into the vehicle; Ha then pusher Harper back . . . .”).

[8] Seattle Times.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Taylor Soper, WhatsApp: What’s that? College students say ‘whatever’ to Facebook’s new $19B app, GeekWire (Feb. 20, 2014, 1:05 PM), http://www.geekwire.com/2014/college-students-whatsapp/; Mail Online Reporter, Hero National Guardsman, 19, forced to withdraw from college after he was stabbed six times when he jumped the aid of a woman who was being attacked by road rage driver, Daily Mail (Times (originally published Feb. 3, 2015, 7:37 PM EST; updated Dec. 19, 2016, 5:01 PM EST), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2938837/UW-student-19-National-Guard-reservist-stabbed-six-times-protecting-woman-punched-face-man-stole-parking-space.html.

[13] Police Report 1.

[14] BAP Blogger, This Coward’s False Accusation Relied on Asian Male Stereotypes and Nearly Imprisoned an Innocent Man, Big Asian Package (Feb. 15, 2016) [hereinafter Big Asian Package], https://bigasianpackage.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/this-cowards-false-accusation-relied-on-asian-male-stereotypes-and-nearly-imprisoned-an-innocent-man/.

[15] See Jennifer Chun, The bifurcated Asian American response to Fisher II: controversy goes on, Mich. J. Race & L. Blog (Nov. 24, 2015), https://mjrl.org/2015/11/24/the-bifurcated-asian-american-response-to-fisher-ii-the-controversy-goes-on/.

[16] Story’s Pet. for an Order for Protection – Harassment at 4 (Jan. 27, 2015), No. 155-00491.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.; Seattle Times (“Ha was . . . greeted by one of the rugby players who had attended the party but lived in the same five-unit apartment building as Ha and his roommates[.]”).

[19] Story’s Pet. 4.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Compare Story’s Pet. 4 (“After [the altercation Ha] pushed me to the ground and I fell out into the street . . . .”) with Police Report 2 (“During the argument Ha became upset and punched Story, Story then fell . . . .”).

[23] The police report spells her name as “Shomizu,” Police Report 2, but the UW Women’s Rugby Club spells her name as “Shimizu.” Univ. of Wash. Women’s Rugby Club, Meet The Team, http://uwwomensrugby.blogspot.com/p/meet-team.html [hereinafter UW Women’s Rugby Club] (last visited Jan. 22, 2017).

[24] Story’s Pet. 4.

[25] Id.

[26] See Police Report 2.

[27] Police Report 2.

[28] Seattle Times.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Wash. Admin. Code § 478-120-024(1)-(2) (2016), http://www.washington.edu/admin/rules/policies/WAC/478-120-024.html.

[34] Id. at (1).

[35] Id. at (2).

[36] If Story was the initial aggressor and/or an active participant in a group battery against one student, she would have violated Wash. Admin. Code § 478-120-024(1). If she was either one or both and lied about it to the authorities, then she would have additionally violated Wash. Admin. Code § 478-120-024(2).

[37] Seattle Times.

[38] Id.

[39] Reese.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Seattle Times (“No one else involved in the fight faced disciplinary action, said Ha’s defense team.”).

[45] UW Women’s Rugby Club.

[46] E-mail to the author (Mar. 27, 2016, 10:20 PM) (on file with author).

[47] Nat’l Ctr. for Health Statistics, Ctrs. for Disease Control and Prevention, Measured average height, weight, and waist circumference for adult ages 20 years and over (last updated July 15, 2016), https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/body-measurements.htm.

[48] Id.

[49] Police Report 1.

[50] Seattle Times.

[51] DUI (Driving Under the Influence), Wash. State Dep’t of Licensing,  http://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/dui.html (last visited Jan. 22, 2017).

[52] Seattle Times.

[53] Id.

[54] Id.

[55] Id. (“Ha . . . said he feared he would die from having his head repeatedly slammed into a car . . . . From his vantage, [Shane] Colburn said, he saw Harper grab Ha and repeatedly ram Ha into parked cars.”)

[56] Id.

[57] Id.

[58] Big Asian Package.

[59] Id.

[60] Seattle Times.

[61] Id.

[62] Id.

[63] Id. (“No one else involved in the fight faced disciplinary action, said Ha’s defense team.”)

[64] Shelby Mang, Recently acquitted for stabbing fellow student, Jarred Ha returns to the UW for spring quarter, The Daily of the Univ. of Wash. (Apr. 20, 2016) [hereinafter Mang], http://www.dailyuw.com/news/article_b925246c-069d-11e6-93dc-470a42dbb486.html.

[65] Reese.

[66] Id.

[67] Mang.

[68] Id.

[69] Id.

[70] Mang.

[71] Id.

[72] Id.

[73] Id.