After a story from Branson Tri-Lakes News about a man accused of sexually assaulting two students was published on Nov. 10, several alumni have been sharing their concerns about the school’s policies.
Robert Hyslop, 49, is charged with first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree sodomy, and two counts of first-degree kidnapping. He is accused of breaking into a car of two College of the Ozarks students, who were sleeping inside Oct. 29. Hyslop allegedly threatened the man and woman with a gun, making them drive to an overlook on Missouri 165 and forced them to perform sex acts. Hyslop is currently being held in Taney County Jail without bond.
According to court records, the students were sleeping in a car in a commuter lot on Gage Drive because they had returned to the College of the Ozarks campus at 1:10 a.m. after the gates had closed at 1 a.m. According to a statement from the college on Nov. 9, spokesperson Valorie Coleman said that when students are locked out of campus after hours, they know they can call security to be let in.
“They can call security any time day or night,” Coleman said.
Coleman had stressed the incident happened off campus and that “our security protocol is impeccable.”
After the story of the alleged sexual assault was posted online, many people shared the article, and graduates talked about their own experiences. Branson Tri-Lakes News reached out to several C of O alumni through social media.
Walter Watts graduated with a bachelor of arts in psychology in 2013 and said he sympathizes with the students for thinking they couldn’t return to campus after curfew. While attending C of O, Watts said he and others would stay off-campus or sleep in their cars if they missed curfew. His roommate even had a tent he could set up at a nearby campground when he got off work too late, Watts said.
The assumption was that, if you missed curfew, you must be drinking alcohol, but that wasn’t the case, Watts said.
“We all had a small fear of the consequences following even the smallest misstep,” Watts said. “In large, there was – and suspect still is – a lack of consistency among security and leadership. A missed curfew might result in nothing, but there were cases of expulsion in relation to those missed curfews between 2009-2013.”
Stephanie Schweinberg, a 2014 graduate who majored in studio art, was immediately filled with “shock” and “anger” that the college thought it was necessary to “highlight the quality of their security instead of communicating concern for their own students.”
Schweinberg said she hopes the college addresses curfew protocol.
“If the goal for the curfew and security is to keep students safe, then I would love to see them come up with a quick and easy way for students to return to the walls of safety without making the process difficult or being interrogated as soon as they try to enter the gates,” Schweinberg said. “Let the Shepherd’s sheep back into the safety of the flock, so to speak.
Titus Goodrich, a 2015 recreation administration graduate, said he was “devastated” after reading the news article. As a student, curfew was always on his mind, Goodrich said.
“We were never doing anything wrong by the standards of the handbook, but the gates do not care what you were doing,” Goodrich said. “Three minutes late at the gate sober coming from a worship night is still met with the same attitude, questions and intimidation as three hours late sobering up from a house party. I never had that house party experience but I would not have been able to tell based on the reactions from security guards.”
Caleb Schaefer graduated in 2016 after majoring in biblical studies and Christian ministry.
“This is a community-affecting event and will continue to have effects for a while,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said he was frustrated by what appeared to be a dismissal of the events in supporting the college’s security. He said he hopes the college can fix the misconceptions students may have about consequences for missing curfew.
“One of those misconceptions is that students will be kicked out or administratively punished for breaking curfew,” Schaefer said. “The college has affirmed that this isn’t the case. However, it is also apparent that students believe it is true. They think, as I did, that they’ll be kicked out or punished.”
Alumna Amanda Oliver said that she hopes the college amends its policies.
“The students either didn’t know or they didn’t feel comfortable calling security,” Oliver said.
After a request by the Branson Tri-Lakes News for a follow-up comment on Nov. 13, Coleman submitted another statement:
Our hearts are broken over this incident. Administrators and staff are providing a variety of resources and support to the students who were involved.
After hearing from our students and alumni and learning of their concerns regarding our curfew, our Dean of Students, Nick Sharp, is addressing these concerns and clarifying its curfew policy with students. It is important to note that students are not dismissed for missing curfew.
The front gates are intended to protect students, and students will continue to be admitted through the gates by calling the number posted on the front of the guard house.
Please continue to pray for our students as they work to complete their semester.
Here is C of O’s curfew policy, as provided by Coleman:
The gates to the campus close each night at 1:00 a.m. and reopen at 5:00 a.m. After curfew, students are to be in their respective residence halls. Exceptions are listed below:
1. Students who are at their campus workstation. Students should go directly to and from their assigned job.
2. Students who are preparing to leave on a College sponsored trip.
3. Students requesting to leave after curfew for emergencies must contact Security to sign out.
Students returning to campus after 1:00 a.m. will need to contact the College Switchboard at 417.690.3000 to request re-entry back on campus. Upon entering the gates, the student must drive to his/her respective parking lot(s) and then go directly to his/her residence hall.
Campus security is on duty 24 hours a day.