Student Government election commission to investigate ‘malicious’ sexual misconduct rumors

Iowa State Student Body Vice President candidates Juan Bibiloni listens to Jocelyn Simms during the VP debate Feb. 20 in Carver Hall.

Alex Connor

The Student Government election commission decided Monday evening to open an investigation into the source of the sexual misconduct rumors that have surfaced against the Neely-Bibiloni slate this campaign cycle.

The decision came just hours before polls opened Tuesday to begin voting for Iowa State’s next Student Government president, vice president and Senate.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of the malicious rumors that are being spread around — where they started, who they’re being spread by,” Election Commissioner Jacob Zirkelbach said.

He said the election commission intends to begin its investigation after spring break as to let elections “be organic as possible.”

‘What we have are rumors, which are not allegations’

The rumors, which Student Government leadership was first made aware of nearly two weeks ago, detail accusations of sexual misconduct violations involving vice presidential candidate Juan Bibiloni.

The Iowa State Daily has decided against publishing the specificities of the accusations as they have yet to be substantiated by the parties involved.

Margo Foreman, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, who was first made aware of these rumors about the same time as Student Government, said she has not received “any individual on their own fruition to come to the office and say ‘I believe any of the campaign [individuals] engaged in sexual misconduct.’”

Foreman said due to this, her office has not been presented with enough evidence to open an investigation into the rumor.

“We engaged multiple individuals; no one could substantiate any of those claims,” Foreman said. “We [also] engaged with individuals who would have been potential victims, and no one is saying those things occurred.”

The decision to open an investigation, Foreman said, is based on a process where her office first examines the accusation and looks for substantial information to back the allegations, or in this case, rumors.

If the accusations are substantiated, the Office of Equal Opportunity will advise the reporter of the sexual misconduct to move forward with a complaint. If the reporter acts against that decision, the office can still open an investigation if it deems the campus as unsafe.

However, Foreman said, no claims have been substantiated enough to continue to move forward in investigating the rumors made against Bibiloni.

“What we have are rumors, which are not allegations,” she said. “Allegations are claims of individual behavior that is based on facts or the belief that someone has facts.”

According to Iowa State’s policies and procedures relating to sexual misconduct, “a complaint made in good faith is not considered false merely because the evidence does not ultimately support the allegation of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment. Acts of knowingly filing false complaints are, by themselves, cause for disciplinary action.”

Zirkelbach said any action by members of a campaign team can be interpreted as coming from the campaign, according to the Election Code.


On Feb. 15, Yash Lekhwani, campaign manager for Julian Neely and Bibiloni, said he was contacted about the rumors regarding sexual misconduct by Bibiloni.

Lekhwani said he informed the candidates of the accusations and they all met the next morning to discuss the next step forward.

The Neely-Bibiloni campaign claims it was a member of the opposition’s team spreading the initial rumor.

“A disclosed member of [the Whittington-Simms] campaign specifically told them this [rumor] and they came to us,” Lekhwani said.

After learning of the rumor, Bibiloni said his campaign decided to be forward with the accusations and contacted the alleged victim apologizing for any discomfort he may have caused. Bibiloni said he offered his willingness to go to the ISU Police Department should the individual want to.

“This person immediately informed me that these allegations were false, that they were not true and that I had never committed any wrongdoing — that it was rumors that were going around and being spread around,” Bibiloni said.

However, presidential candidate Benjamin Whittington said his understanding of the rumors stems from what he perceives as an actual event that took place.

“We know the affected party, and she shared that information with a close friend of hers who is a member of our campaign,” Whittington said.

Whittington denies the claims that his campaign team spread the rumors.

“It spread, in my opinion, organically,” he said. “It came as a shock to me.”

After hearing of the initial accusations, as well as being approached by multiple individuals asking about the rumors, Bibiloni submitted a complaint with the Office of Equal Opportunity for harassment on Feb. 21.

At this point, Bibiloni said he had evidence of a second member of the Whittington-Simms campaign team spreading the sexual misconduct rumors.

“The thing I believe should come across is that there are no OEO [Office of Equal Opportunity] complaints against me,” Bibiloni said. “There are OEO complaints of harassment that I have submitted. That should be very clear.”

In addition to the rumors against Bibiloni, Neely was messaged on Facebook on March 3 by a stranger in relation to domestic violence allegations.

“Somebody found me on Facebook and messaged me about concerns not only regarding Juan, but also myself regarding my freshman year, discussing something that I did to a girlfriend of mine,” Neely said. “I’ve never had a girlfriend [in college] — the last girlfriend I had was [during] my sophomore year of high school.

“That was something that I was taken aback by.”

The following day — Saturday, March 4 — the Neely-Bibiloni campaign was made aware of a vandalized yard sign outside of Gerdin Hall. The sign, which was purchased to promote their campaign, had the word ‘rapist’ written in duct tape on it. There was also an ‘x’ in front of Bibiloni’s name.

The vandalized sign was removed shortly after being found on campus by a friend of the Neely-Bibiloni campaign, who said they have since reported the incident to ISU Police.

Based on the rumors, and who the Neely-Bibiloni campaign believes to be perpetrating them, Neely and Bibiloni believe the Whittington-Simms campaign should resign from the election.

“We have all these consequences,” Bibiloni said. “And when I emailed the election commission, what I said in my email was: ‘The other campaign is sitting on a couple of fines, while we are sitting on a targeted campaign of slander against us that is ongoing and far reaching — far reaching enough to have senior administrators become aware of it.’

“It’s truly pathetic on their part, and overall in the process, it’s truly saddening to see that on our campus.”

Whittington, however, wanted to clarify that his campaign “in no way used this to win.”

“Jocelyn and I both have personal attachments to sexual assault and sexual misconduct,” he said. “It affects our lives a great deal, and when we hear things about that, we take it seriously. We believe the victim in all circumstances.”

Student Government statement

In a joint statement with the executive slates, Student Government leaders denounced on Monday any actions that serve to “perpetrate false sexual misconduct rumors” to influence the process of the Student Government elections.

The statement, addressed to students, faculty and staff, said, “Any false rumors or allegations are heinous and undermine the credibility of survivors of these violent crimes.”

The statement was signed by current Student Government President Cody West and Vice President Cody Smith, as well as executive candidates Neely, Bibiloni, Whittington and Jocelyn Simms.

Smith said the statement was drafted Monday after the aforementioned parties met to openly discuss the rumor and decide on the next best step for Student Government and the slates. While Smith recommended the statement, he said any participation by the candidates was voluntary.

“As current and prospective leaders of our campus, we feel it is necessary to articulate that any effort to improperly influence the Student Government election process through disbursement of inaccurate or slanderous statements is contrary to Iowa State University’s Principles of Community,” according to the statement.

The statement did not clarify the specificities of the rumors, the nature of the alleged misconduct and who they are against, but did urge students to “report any rumors, statements or actions to the Office of Equal Opportunity.”

‘Mandatory’ meeting

In advance of the statement released Monday afternoon, Smith called for a “mandatory meeting” to discuss the rumors with Neely, Bibiloni, Whittington, Simms, Zirkelbach and Foreman as a way to “clear the air.”

Whittington said the nature of this meeting was uncomfortable and he and his vice president, Jocelyn, signed their names to the statement because they felt pressured to do so and that they couldn’t “push back or object.”

“We were not able to be as straightforward as we would have liked,” Whittington said.

To him, the statement was off putting as he felt it was “more concerned with the perception of the election than the victim in this case.”

In an additional statement released at 1 a.m. Tuesday on their campaign Facebook page, Whittington and Simms said that during the meeting, they felt that Foreman reprimanded their campaign for “speaking out about sexual assault awareness.”

The statement said Whittington and Simms believe that “rather than attempting to settle any rumors or sexual misconduct allegations, Ms. Foreman informed us of specific details of a situation confirmed to be at hand. We feel that we have been pulled into a situation that we never wished to be a part of.”

It continues: “The Whittington-Simms campaign never accused anyone of sexual assault, we were merely spreading awareness on a platform initiative near and dear to our hearts with hopes of being a voice to survivors. We feel that in this situation, the main focus of Iowa State’s administration is on the image-damaging effects of sexual misconduct allegations rather than on the actual issue of sexual misconduct.”

Foreman, however, denies the Whittington-Simms interpretation of the meeting and said their portrayal of the incident was skewed. At that time, Foreman said she was unaware of sexual assault awareness as a campaign platform by the Whittington-Simms slate.

Additionally, Foreman said she had received no contact from the Whittington-Simms campaign about their reaction to the meeting in advance of the statement they sent out.

“Nothing about reporting allegations was discouraged,” Foreman said. “An allegation and a rumor are two different things.”

Foreman said she told the candidates that thus far, they had gone through the process of looking into the accusations and that there was not enough substance to move forward with an investigation.

Additionally, Whittington and Simms raised concern about Foreman’s neutrality in the situation.

“In conversation, she expressed that if the election were to turn to favor us, the ISU administration would have little confidence in our integrity,” the statement read. “This statement in itself pushed us into a corner and gave us little room to make any other decision but to cooperate and go along with the joint statement.”

Foreman said that she told the candidates that rumors in any form have a damaging effect to everyone involved and undermines the integrity of all the candidates regardless of who wins, and that administrators like herself will consider that when engaging with victors after the election.

Smith also condemned the interpretation of the meeting by the Whittington-Simms campaign: “Any statement that suggests Student Government leadership or past Student Government leadership doesn’t prioritize sexual misconduct is frivolous and unfounded.”

In a recording of the meeting obtained by the Iowa State Daily, Smith said to the candidates the meeting was to make sure everyone was on the same page and to make sure to send a unified message about this “being inappropriate, unwarranted and not OK in our elections.”

During the meeting, Whittington and Simms discussed openly the rumors they had heard about the sexual misconduct but did not want to “add fuel to the fire” and were also unsure of the best way to handle the situation.

What’s next?

The Election Commission will investigate the rumors, and who may be spreading them, after spring break. The possibility exists that it could be considered a malicious violation. According to the Election Code, “malicious violations may include, but are not limited to, buying votes, bribery, harassment of opposition or voters.”

Zirkelbach said based on the investigation’s findings, the Election Commision could nullify the election results.

Other avenues include bringing the case to the Student Government Supreme Court, impeachment by the Senate or a recall by the students.

“We’re operating off the assumption based on what we know and also what a third party knows and the decision they’ve taken,” Zirkelbach said. “As of right now, all signs point toward this [the accusations being rumors] but if it changes, then it changes. If people come forward, then they come forward.”

In an interview Monday evening, in advance of the Whittington-Simms statement, Foreman said her reaction to the rumors are not necessarily based on its relation to the elections, but rather the possible lack of due process it could result in and the potential impacts the publicity of this incident may have on future reporting of sexual misconduct.

“People that may be impacted may be potential reporters who may be reluctant now,” she said. “There may also be people who are a responsible party who may be reluctant to be part of the investigation thinking they wouldn’t have a fair process.

“And the fact that people can be triggered and develop symptoms of trauma, without it necessarily being the facts that are now on display, is harmful in the current situation and can potentially be harmful in the future.”