Skip to main content

Reader discretion advised: This story contains multiple mentions of sexual assault and abuse according to court documents.

Graphic of Title IX protests, Fan office and mural
Photos by Zoe Malen, Graphic by Emerson Drewes

Listen to the audio component here.

In a grand room with high ceilings, deep blue curtains and a galant conference table, three high-powered individuals sat circled around two student journalists with two communications directors on stand-by.

And yet, the well-known president of the University of Nevada, Reno, Brian Sandoval sat in his chair, his hands folded and slumped over, where he seemed small even in his own office in the Clark Administration building.

Sandoval gave his full attention to The Nevada Sagebrush throughout the meeting, along with Jeff Thompson, the executive vice president and provost of the university, and Zeva Edmonson, the brand-new director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX, and the two communications directors, Kerri Garcia Hendricks and Scott Walquist.

Given just 30 minutes, the Sagebrush asked each question meticulously, and every answer would be filled with hopeful promises, many clarifications and carefully selected words.

Everyone during the interview was stiff and unsmiling, and for good reason. As the spark of an alleged sexual assault lawsuit lit a fire of outrage from faculty and students across campus, blaming the university and its department of Title IX for failing in their duties. 

Feifei Fan, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the university, opened Pandora’s box when she filed a lawsuit suing the Nevada System of Higher Education on behalf of the university based on allegations of sexual assault, abuse and misconduct.

Fan specifically names her alleged abuser as another tenured professor in the department, Yanyao Jiang, who was previously her mentor and a part of her tenure committee.

The original 49-page court complaint had detailed allegations and was filed on Dec. 22, 2022 against the Board of Regents of NSHE for the alleged misconduct she says she experienced at the university and at the hands of Jiang over the course of a decade. 

In the original lawsuit, NSHE was sued for 11 counts: a count of forced labor; a count of trafficking with respect to forced labor; a count of sex trafficking; a count of deliberate indifference; a count of hostile environment; a count of gender discrimination; a count of retaliation; a count of national origin discrimination; a count of breach of contract; a count of negligent, grossly negligent, or reckless training, supervision and retention and a count of breach of duty to Fan.

Fan’s lawyer voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit and allegations have not been confirmed. However, this case between Fan and Jiang was like a lightning rod, striking the hearts of many students and unlocking the faults hiding behind closed doors of the Title IX department.

2005Feifei Fan and Yanyao Jiang meet
2006 – 2008Fan is a UNR grad student; alleged sexual assault begins
2008 – 2015Fan goes to the Georgia Institute of Technology for her doctorate
2015 – 2021Fan joins UNR as associate professor; alleged misconduct continues
Jan. 29, 2021Fan files Title IX complaint
May 28, 2021Jiang files Title IX complaint against Fan
Oct. 25, 2021Fan files lawsuit against Jiang
Nov. 24, 2022USA Today’s article listing UNR as one of six universities to keep Title IX misconduct a secret is released
Dec. 11, 2022Nevada Faculty Alliance issues “letter of concern” about Title IX 
Dec. 22, 2022Fan files lawsuit against NSHE on behalf of UNR
June 19, 2023Zeva Edmonson hired as new Title IX director 
Sept. 9, 2023Fan’s private suit against Jiang dismissed 
Sept. 27, 2023Fan appeals private suit 
Oct. 2, 2023Fan creates GoFundMe for court costs 
Oct. 7, 2023Petition created to reform sexual assault and harrassment policies at UNR 
The Nevada Sagebrush posts first article about summary of Fan allegations
Oct. 9, 2023Stand with Feifei is organized
Oct. 10, 2023Nevada Faculty Alliance releases statement about Title IX issues 
Oct. 11, 2023The Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno’s student senate receives public comment about Fan case 
Oct. 12, 2023UNR moves to dismiss lawsuit
Students protest at business building groundbreaking event, Fan responds
Oct. 13, 2023Brian Sandoval, president of the university, releases a statement about Title IX
Oct. 17, 2023Fan pulls GoFundMe
Sandoval mentions Title IX allegations at State of the University 
Oct. 18, 2024Student senate receives Title IX presentation and discussion 
Oct. 19, 2023Faculty senate discusses Title IX controversy
Oct. 24, 2023Fan receives new attorney for NSHE case 
Oct. 31, 2023Stand With Feifei releases statement against Sandoval’s State of the University address
Sagebrush meets with Edmonson to discuss Title IX going forward
Title IX dashboard statistics first released for the month of October
Nov. 8, 2023
Fan motions to dismiss case, hoping to “start over” with new lawyer
Student government discusses resolution urging the termination of Jiang
Nov. 20, 2023Sagebrush meets with president, provost and Title IX director  
Dec. 1, 2023The Chronicle of Higher Education releases a feature on the Fan case, highlighting the Sagebrush coverage
Jan. 19, 2024Fan and Jiang terminated 

Understanding Title IX’s process

The university’s Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX is an independent fact-finder used for students or faculty to file complaints of sexual harassment, sexual violence or any form of unlawful discrimination or retaliation.

The process goes like this

  1. A person of the university files a complaint either online via their online portal or in-person.
  2. Title IX will respond to the complaint within 72 hours, confirming it has been received and is under reviewed. 
  3. The team will review the claim to ensure it is within Title IX’s jurisdiction.
  4. An intake person will make an appointment with whoever filed the complaint so they can learn about the case.
  5. If the complainant chooses to go forward with the investigation, they will be assigned an investigator, or they can forgo the investigation and ask for supportive measures. 
  6. The office then conducts an unbiased investigation based on the information provided.
  7. Information is gathered via witness statements, electronic evidence through messages and other relevant documents which are kept confidential.

However, under Title IX specifically, as defined as sex discrimination, not other forms of discrimination, here are the remaining steps that follow.

  1. The investigation’s information is given to an independent decision maker that is not an employee at the university. They are contracted for this based on their knowledge of Title IX and the laws
  2. A hearing is held, including real court experiences like cross-examination 
  3. The independent entity then reviews the evidence and makes a decision on sanctions or results about the case.

The final report given by the third party entity is not public. Title IX receives the results of the hearing to put sanctions in place and close a case, but the department cannot disclose information about this. Only a person involved in the case can release any information at will.

The complainant also does not have to go forward with an investigation or hearing if they choose not to. 

Lawsuits following alleged discrimination and sexual violence have be filed, like what Fan did, if victims feel the university has not done enough for their case.

The trigger for change 

All information mentioned below was obtained through court records from the dockets on both lawsuits mentioned.

Fan filed the original 49-page complaint on Dec. 22, 2022 against NSHE which details allegations of sexual slavery, assault, abuse and misconduct.

Attention was garnered about the case due to a GoFundMe created on Oct. 2, 2023 on behalf of Fan, seeking donations to exclusively cover the legal expenses of this case.

“We need your support to seek justice for Feifei Fan, the victim of alleged abuse, exploitation, and systemic misconduct at the University of Nevada, Reno,” the GoFundMe says.

Fan also added to the donation description that she cannot share more information about the case at this time until things are resolved.

“My hope is that none of you will face the challenges I’ve endured. I am determined to pass on my painful lessons to empower future advocates against injustices,” Fan wrote in the donation description.

Fan, the plaintiff, is a 40-year-old Chinese citizen who became a U.S. permanent resident in May 2020. From 2006 to 2008, Fan studied for her master’s in science and worked as a graduate student employee in the mechanical engineering department at UNR on an F-1 student visa. From 2015 to 2021, Fan worked as tenure-track assistant professor in the department. She was then on a H-1B work visa until she obtained a ten-year employment-based EB-1A visa.

According to the court document, “for over a decade, the University of Nevada, Reno has knowingly permitted and ratified senior leadership in its mechanical engineering department to pervasively abuse, intimidate, deter, silence, dismiss and retaliate against foreign students and junior faculty.”

The complaint claimed that the university allegedly took advantage of foreign students and junior faculty because of their vulnerabilities, including their legality of staying in the U.S., reliance on student stipend, schooling or employment prospects on upper leadership, little knowledge of U.S. law and lack of financial support to plead cases.

“Knowing these vulnerabilities, UNR never provided training to foreign graduate student employees in the [mechanical engineering] department on Title IX, Title VI, Title VII, and relevant policies to prevent abuse and unlawful exploitation by their advisors and supervisors,” the document said. “UNR did not provide them with a clear reporting channel. As a consequence, foreign graduate student employees were not aware of their rights and how to report.”

The original complaint also names Yanyao Jiang, a senior professor in the university’s mechanical engineering department and fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, as an alleged “serial sexual predator and violent rapist.”

The allegations state that the university “failed to properly train Jiang regarding its dating violence and sexual misconduct policies.”

While the NSHE suit was ongoing, Jiang and Fan had a private lawsuit, which was filed on Oct. 25, 2021 when Fan filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada and demanded a jury trial against him and his wife, Wei Wu, with similar counts of sexual trafficking, harassment and assault claims. She also claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.

In both complaints, Fan outlined timelines of her and Jiang’s relationship beginning in 2006 and, in detailed descriptions, gave specifics on what she alleged was one without consent.

2005 – 2008 

In 2005, Jiang allegedly met his wife’s friend, who was Fan’s undergraduate thesis advisor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, regarding student recruitment. Fan claims her undergraduate thesis advisor convinced her to go to the U.S. and study under Jiang. Jiang testified that he offered her a research assistantship to study under him for her master’s at UNR.

During her time as a graduate student in October 2006, Jiang allegedly summoned Fan to his office and raped her. He allegedly denied the sexual assault and threatened to expel Fan, file a police report against her, deport her and forbid her from renewing her visa. Both complaints reported that Jiang allegedly “ignored Fan’s crying during sexual intercourse.”

However, Jiang denies this, claiming they had an “on-off consensual sexual relationship.”

Fan alleges that Jiang raped, sexually abused and emotionally abused her during her master’s studies at this time — including many alleged occurrences in work places on campus. She says she did not know how to protect herself without harmful consequences to her stipend and job because the university “failed to protect students and never trained foreign students on Title IX policies.”

According to Fan, she contracted chlamydia in 2007 from Jiang, but claimed she did not provide Jiang’s identity to the health clinic out of fear that she would expose the abuse. However, Fan could not provide medical information to the court.

Fan left the university in 2008 when she graduated. She moved to complete her doctorate at the Georgia Institute of Technology from 2008 to 2015. At this time, she alleged that Jiang still initiated and insisted on online sexual relations. No documentation was provided about this in the court case.

The court also finalized that this meant Fan “was no longer receiving wages for her work” and they concluded that Jiang no longer had any influence over Fan’s academic career while she was studying in Georgia because she did not receive value for education from the university.

Fan did not try to explain why she chose to return to UNR; the court wrote that they believed Fan’s omission of an explanation was telling:

“After receiving her doctorate in Georgia, she decided to return to work under Jiang at UNR, even though she alleges that he had essentially held her immigration status hostage some years earlier,” the analysis in the document says. “While the Court must take the allegations as true, the facts of this case make Fan’s claims questionable.”

2015 – 2021:

Jiang was assigned as Fan’s mentor and tenure committee supervisor when she returned to the university in her associate professor position in 2015, putting Jiang into a “position of power” over her again.

In August 2019, Fan claimed experiencing a decade-long depression due to the alleged sexual abuse became too much for her to handle. She met with a therapist during this time, which is reported in the court documents. Fan claimed she approached Jiang and threatened to report the abuse in 2019.

From here, Jiang “furiously” yelled at Fan and raised his fist at her. Miles Greiner, the then-department chair, allegedly heard Fan’s office door was heavily slammed, reporting this incident as Fan’s unprofessional behavior to the human resources department. Claiming potential consequences, Fan wrote in the complaints that she hid Jiang’s involvement in “unprofessional behavior” and did not move forward with reporting the sexual acts.

Fan received permanent U.S. residency in April 2020 and allegedly decided to inform Wu of Jiang’s abuse, to which Jiang allegedly responded with a threat of physical harm after Fan sent Wu a text message informing her of Jiang’s alleged abuse.

However, Jiang again claimed the entire sexual relationship was consensual.

In July 2020, Jiang and Fan allegedly met at a park to discuss the situation regarding his wife, which she claimed he continued to threaten her. In August 2020, Jiang allegedly scolded Fan for the situation outside of her office and threatened to end her life.

Jiang then sent Fan a cease-and-desist letter on July 20, 2020, after he claims to have received “hundreds of harassing messages” from Fan. Furthermore, he claimed Fan vandalized his UNR office after this letter was issued.

On Jan. 1, 2021, Fan claimed to have reported Jiang’s sexual misconduct to Petros Voulgaris, the department chair, according to the document. Fan was notified that the Title IX Office might contact her for an investigation.

Fan wrote she was not contacted by Title IX and filed a formal complaint to the department on Jan. 29, 2021 against Jiang, according to the court document.

After Jiang learned of Fan’s Title IX filing, he requested a protection order against Fan, claiming she continued to harass him; he also filed a police report against her, claiming Fan was mentally unstable and she allegedly purchased a gun with “nefarious intent.”

Jiang also filed his own Title IX complaint against Fan on May 28, 2021.

In April 2021, Fan allegedly emailed Jill Heaton, the former vice provost of Faculty Affairs, Manos Maragakis, the former dean of engineering and Petros Voulgaris, the current chair of the mechanical engineering department, to inquire whether she could meet an administrator with supervisory authority on the hostile environment issues. Heaton, Maragakis and Voulgaris allegedly denied the request for this meeting.

The court proceedings 

After Fan filed the personal lawsuit against Jiang, both the professor and his wife moved for a dismissal due to Fan’s failure to state claim, with thorough reasoning as to why her charges would not be applicable in this court.

Jiang’s lawyers sanctioned Fan for the text and WeChat messages, but Fan “honestly and openly admitted” to deleting these messages before the civil suit was filed, claiming they caused her emotional distress. Magistrate Judge Craig Denney told Fan’s lawyer, Ryan J. Cann, he was troubled by Fan’s lack of providing the medical information and the online communications. Kendall Lovell, one of Jiang’s lawyers said she believed the deleted messages would be proof it was an “affectionate, consensual relationship” and Fan was simply a  “disparaged lover.”

The court analysis deemed Jiang’s relationship with Fan as “morally reprehensible” but clarified it did not meet any of the standards Fan charged him with.

“Fan’s federal causes of action are improper, leaving purely state law claims. For that reason, the Court will dismiss the action against Jiang for failure to state a claim and lack of subject matter jurisdiction,” the document wrote.

The lawsuit was then terminated on Sept. 9, 2023 in favor of the defendant. Cann and Fan were sanctioned with many charges, including extra sanctions for her counsel filing a “frivolous action” by including Jiang’s wife Wei Wu in the charges. The court ordered that Fan and her counsel pay Wu’s attorney fees, almost $84,462.21 on Sept. 22, 2023.

Fan filed an appeal against Jiang and Wu, to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Sept. 27, 2023. No new information about this appealed case has been released.

Jiang’s lawyer issued this statement to The Nevada Sagebrush on behalf of Jiang:

“Justice requires careful consideration of the facts, and an understanding that not every accusation is true. This is why deliberative processes, like Title IX investigations or federal lawsuits, take time. As the legal and Title IX investigations have taken place, terrible lies have been told about me in the press. These characterizations are hurtful to my family. I respect everyone’s right to voice their opinions, but ask that they seek out the facts. The truth will ultimately show that these allegations against me are not based in reality. Fan has lost her federal lawsuit against my wife and me; while she has a right to appeal, I am confident her appeal will not succeed. As the judge said in dismissing Fan’s federal lawsuit against my wife and me, the action was dismissed ‘for failure to state a claim[,]” the conduct Fan alleged in that case “is not sex trafficking[,]” and “what is clear from [that] Action is that Fan and Jiang had a sexual relationship that soured.’ The judge also sanctioned Fan for her discovery violations and sanctioned her for the frivolous case she brought against my wife. Again, the truth will ultimately show that Fan’s allegations against me are not based in reality.”

The NSHE case

The case Fan filed against NSHE was reassigned multiple times and served to NSHE on Jan. 6, 2023 and again on March 16 due to improper summons. She also amended her complaint on May 18, to add a twelfth count against the university: Tortious-Interference of Contract.

Under this charge, Fan claims her employment at the university was based under a contract which she claims forbade sexual acts between students and faculty or between tenure-track faculty and tenure committee members who evaluate and vote on a person’s grant of tenure or not. According to the university’s 1,912 consensual relationships policy, the university “prohibits romantic or sexual relations in circumstances in which one of the individuals is in a position of direct professional power over the other.”

In part of her requests in the lawsuit, Fan asked for an award of damages with no amount less than $20 million and an order requiring the university to investigate “its past deviation” from Title IX and Title VI responsibilities, specifically within its mechanical engineering department.

The Nevada Sagebrush obtained the declaration of Jiang during his private suit (document 9-1) with Fan to which the summary describes that he did declare they had a “consensual sexual relationship.”

“Dr. Fan and I had a years-long, on-off consensual sexual relationship, which began late 2006 and ended 2019,” Jiang said, according to the summary section in the court document. “Between 2017 and 2019, I tried on multiple occasions to end the relationship once and for all. But Dr. Fan refused, threatening to tell my wife, Wei Wu, about the affair if I insisted on breaking up with her.”

As her mentor and tenure committee member, Jiang’s confirmation of a sexual relationship, even if it was consensual, violates the policy.

The university moved to dismiss the complaint on Oct. 12, due to “insufficient service of process” because she did not effectively serve UNR in the 90 days after she filed her complaint.

This was also not the first deadline her attorney Cann missed other court filings and timelines for amending the complaint.

On Oct. 24, a motion was submitted to substitute previous attorney, Cann, for her current attorney, Theresa Mains, for the remainder of the case.

The most recent update found that Fan and her new attorney Mains motioned for a voluntary dismissal without prejudice on Nov. 8 in the NSHE case. This was said to be granted to give Mains time to review the case before a response to the motion of dismissal.

Fan would not comment on the court proceedings, but on her site she posted the following statement

“Due to ongoing legal proceedings, I cannot share my discoveries at this time. Once they are resolved, I will share my findings and lessons learned, especially from my interactions with UNR’s investigation teams and my highly frustrating legal journey in and outside the court. My hope is that none of you will face the challenges I’ve endured. I am determined to pass on my painful lessons to empower future advocates against injustices.”

In the end, both Jiang and Fan were terminated from the university on Jan. 19.

No comment was received from Fan or Jiang regarding their termination.

Student outrage takes flight 

The anonymous student posting app Yik Yak proceeded with the normal dull conversations on Oct. 5: making fun of freshmen and complaining about professors, when suddenly a Google Drive link was shared onto the site. It was the lawsuit Fan had filed against NSHE.

At the same time, The Nevada Sagebrush news desk had received an email with the same document urging them to look into the case claiming UNR’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX was complicit in spite of alleged abuse from a mechanical engineering professor.

From there, Fan’s case caught on to the UNR community like wildfire: students reposted screenshots on YikYak, comments questioned professors, people criticized Title IX for “ignoring” Fan’s case, angry shaming of the university and photos of the two professors swirled.

On Oct. 7, only two days after the initial YikYak posts, a student petition created by Jack Donelson received 976 signatures; it was addressed to the Office of Student Conduct, NSHE and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX, demanding reformed policies and responses to sexual assault and harrassment. The petition claimed that the university was not taking sufficient action on Title IX filings and cases of sexual assault and harrassment.

“These past few weeks have been extremely difficult for the entire UNR community, as stories of sexual assault and harassment that have occurred on and off campus have surfaced by brave survivors,” the petition says. “Many of these stories all share the same sentiment – they bravely reported these incidents to seek justice and support, yet their voices were silenced by the school.

The petition also highlights the issue is not how victims can report their complaints but instead the lack of action and response from the department to those who were affected.

“These actions to protect the victims and punish the perpetrators are clearly stated in the policies described above – so why is nothing being done for these victims?” the petition says.

The petition also requested a release of data to show how sexual misconduct complaints are handled and encouraged the university to admit its “wrong-doings” and provide change to their policies. 

“We are tired of your empty words,” the petition says. “Silence is compliance. We the students demand action, we demand change, we demand sexual assault and sexual harassment reform on this campus. We believe and stand with survivors. So should you.”

Organization of Stand with Feifei

Two days after students got wind of the petition and the Sagebrush posted the first Fan article, the story grew tenfold and a group of students decided it was time to organize. 

An Instagram account named @standwithfeifei, posted about the first meeting to bring justice for Fan was underway. A room was reserved in the Davidson Math and Science Center on Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. for students to come together and discuss how to bring impact with their fight against Title IX and for Fan.

Walking into the room, sadness filled the air with a tinge of outrage. Students looked exhausted, tired after a full day of classes and presumably tired of another thing on their plate. But they continued on, through the two hour meeting, talking through the case, hearing advice from other individuals about their own issues with Title IX, forming committees to emphasize fundraising plans and press releases for media, creating communication lines on the app Discord and planning an action plan against the university.

The leaders of the meeting were passing out individual flowers to every person that stepped through the door, welcoming in the new faces, having no idea these would be the same ones protesting alongside them.

“One petition, one protest, that’s not really going to do anything. They want us to feel exhausted and to stop, right? Cause then we’ll just go back to normal life and everything will get brushed under the rug,” said Fiorina Chau, one of the students behind the Stand With Feifei organization. “This is something that we have to be very consistent in and we have to persevere to bring change.”

Regardless of the risk of compromising their academic careers, every student in the room was committed to punching back. 

“Reform Title IX” protest

Zoe Malen / Nevada Sagebrush
Brian Sandoval, UNR president, speaks on stage at the Mathewson Gateway Project College of Business building groundbreaking on Thursday amid protests. Students and other members of the campus community protested in support of Feifei Fan, a UNR mechanical engineering professor who filed a lawsuit against Board of Regents on behalf of UNR.

Ambient background music and speeches were muffled by protestors at the groundbreaking for the Mathewson Gateway Project College of Business building on Oct. 12. Students protested about the case filed by Fan for alleged sexual abuse and the growing pitfalls within Title IX.

The student protestors arrived slightly before the scheduled start of the event at 3 p.m. on Oct. 12, clad strong sentiments on their protest materials in support of Fan and condemning the university. They stood at the corner of Virginia Street and Ninth Street with their pickets reading “Justice for Feifei,” “Reform Title IX,” amongst others.

The group organized, scattering on the sidewalks of public streets around the new business building unveiling event.

People of prestige were at the event, to witness the groundbreaking and the protest, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto D-NV; Ed Lawson, City of Sparks mayor; Byron Brooks, chair of the Nevada System of Higher Education; Gregory Mosier, dean of the College of Business; Stacie Mathewson, donor for the Mathewson Gateway Project, and many faculty, staff and administrators.

Sandoval stood on the corner amongst the protesting crowd answering questions from media and students, a first since the lawsuit broke.

“There won’t be any effort to hide anything,” Sandoval said. “We’re committed to work with all of you to make the Title IX office work for all of you and as I said we have a new leader and I’m happy to sit down as often as you like and talk to you … I am aware that Title IX needs some work.”

The Nevada Sagebrush published a story regarding the 2021 lawsuit Fan filed against Jiang directly, to which Sandoval said he had no prior knowledge.

“I’m not familiar with that litigation,” Sandoval said. “I haven’t seen the complaint, so I apologize.”

About 50-feet south, over 100 students, faculty and staff dressed in business casual and mingled with each other anticipating the event, with some turning their heads to the protestors.

The students became more vocal at the top of the event at around 3:10 p.m., starting with chanting “sexual violence has got to go” or repeating Fan’s name to bring awareness to her case.

Around thirty minutes before speeches commenced, a group of roughly 10 students migrated to the left of the stage, continuing the same chants and sentiments. The crowd took notice, with many looking at the protestors and pointing. The band and cheerleaders rushed into the event soon after, mixing the sounds of tubas, pom-poms and traditional protesting chants.

Evan Robinson, a student leader of Stand With Feifei, was an organizer helping with getting the protest together.

“Students are here organizing today because we want to see justice for Doctor Feifei Fan, who has alleged sexual assault … against Dr. Jiang,” Robinson said. “We would like to see him removed from UNR.”

Robinson said the protestors also wanted other changes within the university: the release of Title IX files back to victims, a fund set up for victims trying to fight their cases and legal battles, a formal apology from Sandoval’s office and a recommitment to investigating Title IX and the mechanical engineering department – even if this professor is dismissed.

“At the end of the day, we’re paying for this education. We deserve an equitable education,” Robinson said. “Brian Sandoval, please, please listen to your student body when they are demanding and advocating for themselves, and advocating for … your faculty, that are too afraid to speak up for themselves because of the toxic rape culture that you have permitted at the university.” 

Around the time speeches started, the entire group of protestors migrated to behind the stage, holding signs,chanting and flooding the view for onlookers.

Vic Redding, former vice president of administration and finance, current project manager for the new business building and the master of ceremonies, started speaking. The chants did not end for the entirety of the opening statements. Students continued with their chanting until the land acknowledgment and blessing from an indigenous elder and stayed silent for the rest of the ceremony.

Sandoval followed and acknowledged the protestors in his remarks, before giving pleasantries to the crowd for attending.

“I’m proud of our students and this is what democracy looks like,” said Sandoval. “I pledge to work with all of you and thank you for being here.”

The rest of the speeches commenced, with many saying how happy they are about the new business building, sharing in their envy for the upcoming students and talking about how hard they all worked on the project. But still, the protestors stood with signs in hand for the entirety of speeches.

Lissette, a senior student, spoke about her own experience with Title IX at the university, choosing not to reveal her last name for safety purposes and fear of retaliation. She used to be a resident assistant for the university and said they always teach the RA’s about Title IX policies and resources. However, in her experience, nothing has helped. 

“I’ve personally gone through with Title IX and they have done nothing. All they do is give you extensions on assignments and then they call it a day,” Lissette said. “But when it comes to actually giving justice and going through with your abuser, absolutely nothing … and I know I’m not alone in this story.”

Lissette said she had a friend who left the university because of the Title IX office doing absolutely nothing with her case.

“The university is full of garbage,” Lissette said, “I hope [the lawsuit] does enact change, because the university will be losing money and [it will] hit it where it hurts … I hope [Fan] does get justice and she wins her case.”

Zoe Malen/Nevada Sagebrush
Students hold up signs in support of Fan at the “Reform Title IX” protest on Oct. 12.

The groundbreaking event finally began at around 4:30 p.m., and the protestors disseminated from behind the stage. As the administrators and faculty dug their shovels into the ground, fireworks erupted into the air and the chanting began again. The protestors migrated back to the corner of Virginia Street and Ninth Avenue, continuing similar shouts from before.

The protest ended at around 5 p.m. Students and protestors have vowed to continue the fight for Fan via social media and to continue to organize protests and petitions.

After the protest, Fan posted updates on her website regarding the students protesting on her behalf.

“I want to express my gratitude to all of you for your support. Your support means a lot to me!” she wrote. “Due to my ongoing lawsuit, I cannot participate in recent inspiring events aimed at enhancing UNR’s campus. I wish I could. I genuinely feel your strength and hear your voices. I stand in solidarity with all of you, both in the present and the future.”

Now, the photos from the protest stand in the UNR library as a sign of student solidarity and their right to organize.

Where was the transparency?

On Thanksgiving Day 2022, Sandoval was drinking coffee with his wife when the local paper, The Reno-Gazette Journal, arrived at his house. On the front page: an article speaking on the six least transparent Title IX offices in the country.

He thought to himself, “this isn’t going to be on the front page, unless we were one of those six.”

In the article, Walquist told USA Today he was trying to gather the information, but the university wasn’t able to “dedicate the people-hours needed.” In the meeting, Walquist said they never said they would or would not provide the information, simply that they just didn’t have it available. Sandoval agreed, saying they didn’t have the format Kenny Jacoby, the USA Today reporter, asked for since all the files were not digitized and in boxes stacked in the Title IX office.

Across campus, the actual location of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX is tucked away on the second floor of the Continuing Education building, held away in a labyrinth of unidentifiable brown doors, barren tan walls with hidden directions and quiet hallways.

Hiding behind one of the doors is Mary Trent – the keeper of the file boxes, stacks and stacks layered around her room. Trent has a warm face and a positive spirit, but she has a big job. 

After years of build-up, the department has fallen behind. Seven years of documents and physical Title IX filings were waiting to be manually input into the software, Maxient.

“Again, I don’t think it’s fully fair to say we were hiding something, when we didn’t have it to give,” Sandoval said, adding that they supplied Kenny Jacoby with everything he asked for going forward.

Jacoby requested the data from the university months in advance, but at the time, the university still did not have fast and easy access to the last seven years of data, due to the slow process of needing to manually input each and every file into the computer system. At the time, Sandoval claimed they were also auditing all the cases to make sure they were properly completed and closed.

Jacoby told the Sagebrush there was a lot of “back and forth” during the request for data during his year-long reporting on the 107 other universities. He asked specific questions regarding cases dating back to 2014, even listing an annual report as an option to give, but after months of being put on hold, Jacoby never received the data.

UNR gave Jacoby no data until after the article was posted. Here is the data that Jacoby received in July 2023:

Graph of data from Kenny Jacoby
Graphic by Emerson Drewes, Data courtesy of Kenny Jacoby (USA Today)

“This has really been an effort over the past, almost three years,” Sandoval said. “But it’s always been my goal, as I mentioned in my speech and in that statement, that we have an office that works for everybody, that is responsive, fast and thorough.”

The Sagebrush asked follow-up questions about where the Title IX problems first arose, prior to the Fan case and the Jacoby.

Sandoval started in 2020 when he arrived at the university. He said this is when it first came to his attention that the Office of Equal Opportunity & Title IX was understaffed and under-resourced.

The director at the time was Maria Doucettperry, whom he claimed he talked to about these issues.

The department and Sandoval increased the employee salaries to provide stability and help them with staff retention. They hired TNG, a national independent contractor, to look through the backlog to catch up during the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time, they were also actively trying to hire more investigators.

Doucettperry then left her position as the Title IX director in July 2022. During the first search to fill the position, no one was found. It wasn’t until the second search that Edmonson was found.

Sandoval said it was the combination of all of these things that put strains on the department. He said he was working with Title IX and the provost’s office every step of the way.

However, every investigation was put on paper and into boxes, making it harder to obtain information, since it couldn’t be accessed virtually.

The statement to which he was referring was released on Oct. 13 regarding Title IX allegations against the university.

Sandoval told the “Wolf Pack Family” —  a loving sentiment he uses quite often to refer to the campus community — the university cannot comment on the specific allegations due to ongoing litigation but reassures the community that the welfare and safety of everyone on campus is their most important priority.

“I want to assure our University community that it is of the utmost importance we provide a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff and that all on our campus feel supported,” the statement said.

Sandoval wrote that they are also trying to increase staffing, funding and a role restructuring to “better meet the needs” of the university.

“I sincerely believe that these efforts will build trust in the area of Title IX on our campus,” Sandoval wrote in the statement. “This is a complex issue. It requires an all-encompassing approach … requiring equal amounts of accountability, empathy and collaboration.”

However, no statement was released when the first Title IX allegations were brought up the year prior.

When asked about the lack of transparency with the campus community regarding the overflowing backlogs and the lack of manpower in the Title IX department, Sandoval said the opposite, claiming they were being upfront. Every month Sandoval met with the faculty senate, the faculty executive committee and the faculty senate chair. He also said he met with student government leaders about this as well. 

However, after reviewing the public faculty senate minutes of every monthly meeting from 2020 up to the release of the article, the only mention of Title IX was regarding the federal policy changes in September 2020, Doucettperry stepping down in 2022 and a discussion brought up by a faculty senator in November 2022 inquiring about delays and “dysfunction.” Sandoval told the group that the backlog was being worked on but did not specify the depth of the case backlog.

It wasn’t until after the USA Today article was released that Sandoval started giving monthly updates to the faculty senate about the backlog and the hiring process of the Title IX director.

There was also no statement released about Title IX’s growing backlog and the retention rates in the department later. The only statement and communication about Title IX until after the protest was in June 2023, when Edmonson was hired — not to mention, this was a blurb about Edmonson mixed into another document about other hires at the time.

“I mean part of it is, maybe we could have. As I look back, maybe that would’ve been better,” Sandoval said. “But we were trying to figure out the situation that we were in and I didn’t want to provide misinformation.”

He said it was hard to make a statement at this time because the department faced rapid changes each day. Sandoval and Edmonson added that the situation with Jacoby would never happen again because they have access to all the information via a software called Maxient, and the new dashboard would be updated monthly. 

“The one good thing is everything has changed for the better,” Sandoval said. “We’ll never be perfect. I don’t claim to be perfect, but I think we have a really good functioning office now with good leadership and very well-qualified investigators that are going to stay.”

The Title IX department also reported to receive cases about student conduct and ADA filings, which are not under jurisdiction of their department. Edmonson said sorting these files and sending them to the right place added difficulty to the organizing process.

Faculty outrage ensues

Entering the Rita Laden Senate Chambers for the Oct. 19 faculty senate meeting was a little rowdier than usual.

The conference room on the third floor of the Joe Crowley Student Union, two rows of roughly 15 chairs were half-filled with guests and individual observers awaiting comment about the extensive media coverage on the Title IX protest along with the unanswered questions lingering in the air about the Fan case.

Sandoval, Thompson and Edmonson sat front and center in the observers section, sitting in a line with the communications officers at their whim, waiting to be called upon to speak.

When it was their turn, the three administrators were subjected to an approximately hour long discussion about the Title IX department and what reforms the faculty should expect.

Louis Niebur, a faculty senator for the College of Liberal Arts, said he received 15 to 20 questions regarding the “mysterious email” Sandoval sent out regarding Title IX. He wanted more open communication but reiterates that Edmonson claims her “hands are tied” because most of their information is confidential.

The Title IX director said she can disclose information that is not confidential, including when cases open, the number of cases that are currently active, how many cases are coming in and whether they involve faculty or students or staff, etc. The office is also working in assistance with an outside auditing group, known as TNG Consulting, an initiative the faculty senate was told had been started in December 2022.

“It’s frustrating because it’s important that it’s out there, but I mostly want to make sure … you know that that’s what people are talking about, that it’s like the word around campus,” Niebur added, previously referring to news about recent Title IX cases. “People are a little wary and nervous because of that.”

Sandoval said he had to release some sort of statement at the time, reiterating the Title IX statement was not meant to confuse anyone. He also said it was better to “err on the side of communication” by releasing a statement to let the campus know what’s going on.

“If I don’t send out a communication, it’s like I’m avoiding the situation and not communicating,” Sandoval said.

Sesh Commuri, the College of Engineering senator, had a different view on what was happening, claiming that people are fishing for information from faculty and these discussions needed to be cut off and referred to Edmonson.

“This is gossip,” Commuri said. He told faculty senators to not “propagate this nonsense” and that it’s not their place to discuss these matters, in regards to the Fan and Jiang case.

Sandoval also told the senate this was his “top priority.”

“This is fully transparent and all I want … is this to be a fully-functioning office that works for everyone,” Sandoval said. “This doesn’t happen overnight unfortunately, but I really do feel from the bottom of my heart that we are on the right path now.”

Sandoval also mentioned the case that’s received “a lot of attention” but said the university cannot comment on active litigation.

“When [Edmonson] came in, she did a deep dive into the office and there were some things happening that we didn’t know about. And so we’ve provided extra resources to get that done,” Sandoval said. “The truth is some things had been neglected for a very long time … but these are part of the things we have to balance campus-wide. These things with regard to Title IX needed attention and needed attention now.”

Ruecker, who’s also the president of the UNR chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, mentioned the Fan case verbatim, explaining that he knows people who feel “uncomfortable sharing their thoughts” about possible retaliation in departments at the university.

Before this meeting, the NFA also sent a statement to the Sagebrush titled “NSHE inequities and misplaced protection” in response to the controversy about this case as well.

The statement stated that in December of 2022, the State Board of the Nevada Faculty Alliance wrote a letter to Sandoval expressing their concerns about the Title IX Office at the university but received no response.

“Active suits against NSHE institutions allege mishandling of various Title IX violations, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation,” the NFA wrote. “The media attention further damages NSHE’s reputation and the ability of its institutions to recruit and retain talented faculty.”

The NFA also mentions being made aware of a case at UNLV that was delayed seven months before any action was taken and that this case alleges retaliation against a faculty member who filed the Title IX complaint.

“It now appears there is a pattern where NSHE institutions attempt to suppress these cases instead of taking appropriate action to protect all parties,” the statement continued. “Even worse, we have received reports of faculty being subjected to disciplinary action after filing a complaint.”

The NFA urged the Board of Regents of NSHE to hold institutions accountable and correct the Title IX operations. 

The NFA also cited AB245, a bill brought forward by NSHE students to address sexual misconduct issues and to create the task force on power-based violence at institutions of higher education, which was passed in the 2023 Nevada legislature and adopted by Joe Lombardo, governor of Nevada.

“The previous NSHE Task Force on Sexual Misconduct failed to take significant proactive measures to improve the function of campus Title IX offices,” the NFA stated. “We cannot afford for this new task force to repeat the same mistakes.”

State of the University, Fan pulls GoFundMe, Stand with Feifei still dissatisfied, all in one day

During the president’s yearly state of the university address, parts of the crowd waited eagerly in the ballrooms of the Joe. The question on everyone’s mind: was the president going to mention Title IX or the protestors in his address? But something bigger happened at the beginning of the address: Fan pulled the GoFundMe.

“I appreciate your support, but I’ve deeply disappointed myself,” said Fan in a comment on her GoFundMe page. “I am unable to make any better changes; instead, I’m just dragging myself into an abyss, deeper and deeper, being severely tormented by reality. I hope that one day, when I’m strong, I can share all my painful struggles with you.”

The page was made in the hopes of raising $100,000 for all of Fan’s legal fees; around $5,000 was raised before the page was closed.

Sandoval stood at the podium, with the bright white UNR seal backing him as he emphasized the important enhancements the Title IX department has made to remove barriers to reporting and responding to case files. The university deans were seated behind him, looking up to him hopefully and attentively.

“I’m committed personally to engaging continued thoughtful dialogue with our campus about Title IX, now and in the future,” Sandoval said. “And I’ll say this, I promise you, we will make Title IX an office that works for everyone.”

Sandoval then recognized the protestors at the Mathewson Gateway Project College of Business building groundbreaking, calling the college campus and its students “the bastion of democracy in action,” marking the day as “one of the incredible moments” in the university’s history.

The Stand With Feifei organization, who had individuals in attendance and watching live, were outraged with the lack of address for their demands for truth and transparency, wanting to see immediate action of reform.

In a statement they issued on Oct. 31, they responded to Sandoval saying they were vastly dissatisfied with Sandoval’s and the university’s inadequate response to their demands.

“We will not rest until there is legitimate action behind Sandoval’s words. Currently, our group has heard empty promises, and sometimes outright lies. We have no reason to believe that the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX is a safe and trustworthy resource for students and faculty,” the statement said. “We are demanding proper investigations, outside and independent audits, and dismissals of those found guilty of misconduct. We hope the public will Stand with Feifei and everyone who sought help from UNR only to be institutionally betrayed. We have had enough of waiting.”

Student government fuels the fire 

Over the course of three ASUN student senate meetings, floods of public commenters came to speak on the record in front of the student senate body, and Nov. 8, about the Title IX alleged misconduct and the Fan lawsuits.

On Oct. 11, it started off small, with only Evan Robinson and Fiorina Chau, two organizers of the Stand With Feifei organization, giving public comments regarding the case and urging senators to stand up.

“As senators, I know it can be really scary to speak up or to go against the people that you are working for, but just remember who all of you guys are representing,” Chau said, tearing up about the emotion of the situation. “Will you guys show up and stand with us at tomorrow’s protest or will you guys just be complacent when students are depending on you guys to say something? … And if you don’t then who’s going to be next?”

However, the following week was when controversy became amplified.

Sandra Rodriguez, the director for the Center of Student Engagement, commented in a later meeting that she has only seen this many students come together in an ASUN student senate meeting on two occasions in her many years as a leader for student affairs.

The Oct. 18 senate meeting, the first one held after the protest for Title IX reform, was one of them.

Extra chairs were placed around the room to plan for the large expectancy of students; however, this still wasn’t enough space for everyone to sit. Many students were standing, leaning against walls, waiting for their turn to speak to the student government and beg for their additional advocacy for Title IX change. 

Students delivered personal troubling anecdotes about their experiences with safety on campus and Title IX responses, as well as breaking into tears as they spoke up for the emotional situation they saw displayed by Fan in her lawsuits.

Elena Chau, a computer science and engineering student at the university, said at one of the meetings: “Students consistently express frustration through proper channels only to have the concerns swept under the rug by Title IX and NSHE. Even when higher authorities like Brian Sandoval have the ability to affect change, we receive vague assurances of action without clear steps to address these issues.”

Sophie Fliegler, another student, talked about receiving links to the 49-page complaint filed by Fan, claiming the allegations were “upsetting and disgusting.”

Tara Hartman, a biomedical engineering major, said it was disheartening to see how Fan’s case and her friends’ cases have been allegedly dismissed and ignored by Title IX. Hartman said their organization wants protections and resources for students who want to come forward due to possible retaliation efforts.

Zach Hooker voiced similar concerns and “dissatisfaction” about the Title IX issues.

Jamie Cox said she chose this university to go to specifically because of the conversations she had about the safety the university provided, but now she does not feel safe at all walking through the campus.

Eva Elliot told the table that she does not feel safe on this campus with professors with allegations like these continuing to be “protected and supported” by the university.

Edmonson, who also attended the meeting, told the students she had a presentation ready but decided to just have a discussion with everyone about what’s going on.

“I hear the concerns and I appreciate them very much,” Edmonson said. “I know there’s a whole lot of frustration, not just in this room but in the whole campus community.”

Jefrin Jojan, student senator for the College of Engineering, pushed back on Edmonson’s lack of responsibility to the office’s previous leadership.  Additionally, he slammed Sandoval for his lack of response prior to the protest.

“I think a number of students have very valid grievances with the Title IX office, and I don’t think it’s just misinformation or students are just getting angry,” Jojan said. “I think they would’ve tried to … not talk about it, push it under the rug as far as possible.The university administration, they just want to look good for PR purposes right?”

Almost two weeks after the discussion, Diana Landazuri, a senator for the College of Business, Jojan and Robinson presented S.R. 91 A Resolution in Support of Feifei Fan at the Nov. 8 student senate meeting.

The resolution asked for student senators to support Jiang to be terminated from the university, the university to provide international students with Title IX training so they are aware of their rights and other Title IX policy changes and transparency demands.

“Sexual misconduct is not a new issue at UNR … Sandoval’s and Title IX’s response to this situation has done little to instill that confidence and trust I had in the university,” Fiorina Chau said. “Why are we making this so complicated? Professor Jiang confessed to having a sexual relationship with a student. This alone provides grounds for discipline, but instead it looks like UNR is protecting him.”

“The student body is watching us. What will they see tonight?” Emma Doty, senator for the College of Science, said.

The student senate voted unanimously to pass the resolution.

Discussion about “rebuilding” Title IX

When Edmonson was hired in June 2023, she had an extensive background in Title IX work. She mentioned she’s dealt with people affected by sexual harrassment, sexual misconduct, rape and domestic violence her entire career.

“I really enjoy and have a history of going into areas and building, creating or rebuilding departments,” Edmonson said. “This was a really good opportunity for me. I like the challenge.”

As Edmonson jumped into the new role, she was trying to figure out what the shape of the office was by looking at the large backlog of cases and trying to get a handle on this, as well as restaffing her department. 

She said she experienced challenges in the department but was excited with the new staff that was coming in, noting that the oldest person that was working in the department had only been there for a year. 

“Everyone is angry,” Edmonson said, explaining the challenge of the work, “[But] Title IX is about fairness and respect at the end of the day.”

She also said the issue with her office was they had too many cases in the backlog and not enough people to handle it. When Edmonson joined the department, there was no staff in the department available to even answer the phone.

“We’re getting the office stable,” Edmonson said. “We need to be able to address stuff more timely and professionally … This backlog has been a culture I think of this office for years. It didn’t just happen overnight. I think it’s been that way for quite a while and so that’s just got to change it, so we’re going to change it.”

Edmonson said that Title IX has acted as a central investigative unit for the university which included handling cases that were outside of the jurisdiction of Title IX. She also added going forward it will continue to be a challenge, but she wants people to know what’s going on.

“Not everyone will be happy no matter what. Some will like it, some won’t,” Edmonson said. “I think a challenge for me [will be] to make sure everyone understands it and gets the information.”

Title IX started displaying statistics about cases on their page in early November 2023 — after Fan’s case had been blown open and a protest ensued — starting with the most recent data from the month of October. The office received 27 filings in the month of February 2024 and has 48 open reports; other data from the past few months can also be found here.

However, there is no data displayed on the dashboard before October 2023.

Edmonson also invites other people to come in and talk about their concerns, hoping they don’t see Title IX as a “black hole” where no information can be found. She said she hopes no one does the typical eye roll when Title IX is mentioned.

“It’s new. We’re going to be as responsive as we possibly can to our campus community,” Edmonson said. “I just appreciate everyone’s concerns and ask for patience. We’re moving along. I’m absolutely open to suggestions or if people have concerns. I’m willing to listen and hear. We’ll do our best. We’ll get there.”

After walking through each and every door of the office, meeting the handful of staff and examining the room where complainants sit to discuss their complaints, it was oddly much more comforting than expected.

Brochures were laid out on the table describing the Title IX processes, the room was brightly lit with comfortable seating arrangements and even a plant in the corner. Edmonson said the goal was to make it feel less like an interrogation room and more like a place to talk.

Hope for change 

Sandoval told the Sagebrush that Edmonson had extensive experience and a concerted effort to reform the office. Thompson added that Zeva’s expertise in making sure the process is done correctly along the way and administrating proper training has been invaluable.

When relaying concerns many students have voiced about reporting their own cases to Title IX going forward, Edmonson reminds students that “they drive the bus” and she doesn’t want them to be nervous about reporting.

“I want them to understand that we want to hear what they have to say,” Edmonson said. “I’m very concerned if people are feeling like they aren’t being treated right or something’s happened to them. We don’t want violence to be any part of anyone’s college experience, but I need to know about it.” 

She added that they are trying to make it a comfortable space that’s welcoming for everyone. Sandoval said he hopes the department will continue to be a resource for the campus and that this can be a place where they feel “safe, comfortable and heard.”

He added that they knew there were “problems” with the department but they’ve now taken the steps to “correct” the issues.

Without the students where would UNR be?

Edmonson, the director of Title IX, gave an update to the student body senate about the progress her department has made on March 6. She stated the office has up to six investigators and a position for a prevention education specialist is opening up in her department.

Edmonson concluded her update, saying the Title IX department is doing “very well” and the student advisory board, to ensure transparency in the Title IX department, has been formed and is looking for applicants.

Regardless of what happens with Title IX laws or the university’s department, Fan’s lawsuit stirred up an uproar calling out UNR and its administration for their lack of transparency.

Without student and faculty urgency for change, who else would’ve been able to spark immediate change to the Title IX department? 

And more importantly, would it have been swept under the rug afterall?

Jaedyn Young and Emerson Drewes can be reached at or or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.

Leave a Reply