"You can't hide behind that Bible," Paula Penson told Shorter University President Donald Dowless during a meeting Nov. 8, the day the man she has accused of sexual and work harassment against her resigned. "The Bible's not going to protect you just because you're walking around holding it.
"You've got to live by it," said Penson, the director of campus safety at Shorter. "You can't just hold it."
Penson described an intense environment filled with heated exchanges between her and Dowless inside his office. The meeting came a day after news of her claims made headlines following the release of a Rome po lice report detailing her accusations against Corey Humphries, the former vice president of student affairs and her direct supervisor.
There was a suspicion in her mind as to why Dowless had wanted to speak with her — it was because she had gone forward with what he and the upper administration had wanted to keep under wraps, amidst a culture where "everybody turns a blind eye," she said.
"He was so hostile and very mad at me," she said. "He was shaking with that police report. He was in a regular chair that didn't even rock. He was rocking his chair back on the back (legs)."
Also in the office were Provost Donald L. Martin, CFO and Vice President of Finance Susan Zeird, and an assistant taking notes. Neither Martin nor Zeird would look her in the eye and they both looked nervous, Penson said.
"I've never seen him like this," the eight-year employee of Shorter said of Dowless, who she previously had a great relationship with, working closely together. "He said I need to talk to you about this police report you made."
Penson matched Dowless' temper with a side of her they'd never seen, she said.
"I don't never get that mad, but don't call me a liar, first of all," she continued.
Dowless had pressed Penson about a statement in the police report concerning her feelings of being unsafe and fearful on campus due to the possibility of Humphries retaliating against her, she said.
"He was trying to say that I lied, that I gave a false report," she said. "And it was the statement that I felt fearful on campus. He wouldn't read the word ... that he could 'possibly' hurt me."
Omitted from Dowless' rereading of the report was the word "possibly," prompting her to say that she didn't tell police what he was stating she did.
"You don't know what you told the police?" Penson said Dowless asked her, as he looked at the assistant to indicate it needed to be recorded.
Read it word for word, she told him. Then she confirmed her statement, telling the assistant to write that down.
"Do you know how it makes me feel to read this in the paper that you're scared and you're making the campus sound like it's unsafe," Penson recalled Dowless telling her.
As Dowless focused on how the school's reputation could be tarnished, Penson couldn't get so much as an acknowledgement as the victim in the case, she said.
'I'm the victim here, you haven't even acknowledged me as the victim. And he just kept saying, 'I don't want to talk about that.' He was so mad because he doesn't want things in the public. That's why you don't hear anything. .... Don't say a word or you're next.'
"I'm the victim here, you haven't even acknowledged me as the victim. And he just kept saying, 'I don't want to talk about that,'" she said. "He was so mad because he doesn't want things in the public. That's why you don't hear anything. ... Don't say a word or you're next."
After Penson challenged the others in the room to speak up and acknowledge her, Dowless promptly ended the meeting, but he had left out an important point, the reason why Penson was actually called in. Martin asked Dowless if he was going to tell Penson.
"Dowless just looked so dumbfounded," Penson said, as he went on to tell her, "'Humphries has resigned and let's move forward.'
"And that was it," she said. "That's how I found out."
To this day, Penson said the university has failed to reach out to her with her next step as a victim — no counseling opportunities or victim resources, no open door for reaching out.
"They've not even given me a piece of paper saying how my Title IX rights are as a victim. Actually they've victimized me," she said. "They still don't know this whole thing because they've not even asked me."
'They still don't know this whole thing because they've not even asked me.'
In October, Penson filed verbal and written complaints, concerning the alleged harassment which had gone on since late July, with Shorter's human resources department. She said she was Humphries' go-to person, and it was a joke amongst her co-workers that she was at his beck and call.
The two had also worked out together, up until the day she said he put his hands up between her legs in the university's gym. She immediately told him to stop and left.
Penson demanded a strictly professional relationship with Humphries after the alleged incident, but he continued to verbally harass her, questioning why things couldn't return to "normal," she said. She became worried for her safety following her written complaint, she said, as Humphries appeared to be distraught.
Rome police have turned the investigation over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. An internal investigation is ongoing, but Penson believes it is purposefully being prolonged to build a case against her in retaliation.
"I'm betrayed and I'm sickened by it," she said. "I'm invisible and they're just blind. I mean everybody's walking with blinders.
"It's like I don't wanna hear it. I don't wanna see you. You're invisible. Go away," she said. "Sweep it under the rug, get rid of it, it's gone."
This is the first report in an ongoing series concerning Shorter University and one of its employee's claims of sexual and work harassment by her former direct supervisor.
Read this story online to see a previous report about a Shorter University employee's sexual and work harassment complaints involving her former direct supervisor.
Today's artwork is by Sam Smith, a fourth-grader at East Central Elementary School.
Immigration, now a hot-button issue in Washington, is also a major concern for an entire community of medical professionals in Rome for entirely different reasons. Physicians native to India almost find themselves as professionals without a country, stuck in a quagmire of immigration paperwork.
Dr. Tushar Shah, a hospitalist in Rome, said after having been in the U.S. for over a decade, he is now what amounts to an alien back at home in India.
"Our friends of 12-15 years ago have moved on with their lives, and we are here and we are establishing life here," he said. "We connect to people here and if we don't get a green card it's a struggle."
"I've spent precious years of my life here helping so many people," Dr. Asif Shah, another local hospitalist, said. He hasn't been home to India since 2009.
Dr. Abhijit Kanthala is also among a group of Indian physicians who came to the U.S. seeking opportunities that were not available in their homeland, and are stuck in a system that is so backlogged that none of them have been able to even apply for permanent resident status, even though they've been eligible to for going on five years.
All three of the young doctors now have families, their children born in the United States, but if they wanted to go back to India to visit, they are not even assured of being allowed to re-enter the United States.
"My practice is right here in the country and I can't leave," said Tushar Shah.
The H-1B visa serves to allow highly-skilled immigrants into the U.S.
"India has a huge pool of applicants that come in, but there are only a limited number of green cards that are issued every year for every country," Asif Shah said. Indians in the H-1B status who were eligible for permanent residency in 2008 are just now being allowed to apply for per manent resident status.
None of the doctors can establish their own medical practice because they don't have permanent resident status. Kanthala is board certified in geriatrics and expressed frustration that he could not open his own practice in Rome to put that training to use.
"I can start a practice, bring jobs," Kanthala said. But it's at that point where his immigration status slams on the brakes.
All three of the physicians are hospitalists in Rome, which ironically, is classified as an underserved medical community for internal medicine specialists.
"Basically we are an extension of the primary care physician in the hospital," Shah said.
Their driver's licenses are even tied to their H-1B visas. The driver's license expires when the visa expires, and if there is an inquiry or delay in getting the visa renewed, they are technically without a driver's license and in a perilous position to even be able to drive to work.
Federal immigration officials put the doctor's visas in the same category as the overwhelming number of Indian immigrants in the information technology field.
"No multi-billion dollar companies are driving us," Tushar Shah said. "Facebook, Google, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg are really active talking to the White House or Washington about what they need, whereas physicians are not all one company. We are all individuals separated everywhere."
Both Tushar Shah and Asif Shah have been eligible for their green card, or permanent resident status, since 2012. Tushar Shah practiced in Blackfoot, Idaho, for three years before coming to Rome three years ago. Asif Shah practiced in Thomasville before moving to Rome. Kanthala has been in Rome about six months, but has been in the U.S. for seven years.
"One of the reasons you want to be here is because this is the country of the free," Asif Shah said. "You want to be here because you love the country, but the system prohibits us from being a part of it."
A report released in March 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates there could be a shortage of as many as 43,000 internal medicine physicians by 2030.
"We're talking about a huge need, and it's a mutual relationship," Tushar Shah said. "We need to be a part of the community and the community needs us."
Legislation banning the use of cellphones while driving is being drafted for the upcoming Georgia General Assembly session and, this time around, Rep. Eddie Lumsden expects wide support.
Texting while driving was banned in 2010, but the Armuchee Republican — who serves on the House Distracted Driving Study Committee — said the compromise bill failed to stem the rise of accidents with injuries or fatalities.
"The texting law is really ineffective," Lumsden said. "The penalties aren't stringent enough and there are many loopholes."
The study committee, chaired by Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, has been meeting since August and is expected to sign off on a proposed bill before the group disbands on Friday. Lumsden said they've drawn from the model used by the military and U.S. Department of Defense to simplify the issue.
"Basically, you cannot touch your phone while driving," he said. "You can still use it if you have hands-free capabilities, and you can use apps such as GPS if you set them up before you start. You just can't touch the phone."
Penalties would be increased from the current $150 fine and one point against the driver's record.
"A lot of people just look at that as the cost of doing business," Lumsden said.
The draft being finalized now calls for penalties of four points and up to $1,000 at the discretion of the judge.
The study committee was formed to examine trends indicating that fatal wrecks in Georgia are increasing at nearly three times the national average and highway deaths are at their highest level since 2007.
Lumsden said presentations to the group came from representatives of the telecommunications industry, insurance lobby, law enforcement and "families who have suffered losses as a result." While the term "distracted driving" includes activities such as eating and applying makeup, he said there's a clear connection to smartphones.
"There's been a spike over the past two years or so that's really gotten people's attention," Lumsden said. "We now have a younger generation coming of age that's never been without these devices, teens through the mid-20s, and they're the ones you see having injuries and fatalities from these accidents."
What they're saying
The February 2017 AAA Foundation annual Traffic Safety Culture Index found that 40.2 percent of U.S. drivers read a text message or email while driving within the past month.
But drivers aged 19 to 24 significantly outpaced that, with 66.1 percent admitting they've read a communication and 59.3 percent saying they've sent one.
Georgia had a serious injury rate of 11.44 per one million miles traveled in 2009, according to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, with 12,492 serious injuries recorded.
The rate took a dip in subsequent years, after the texting ban was enacted. However, by 2015, it was up to 16.46 per million miles, with 19,405 serious injuries on state roads.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists crashes as the leading cause of teen deaths, and the GOHS reports that the rural traffic fatality rate is consistently double the rate in urban areas.
Law enforcement officers also have told the committee that it's hard to make a case under the current law, since it only addresses texting — not the use of Facebook and other sites.
"The GOHS is very supportive of this new legislation; the governor is very supportive," Lumsden said. "A lot of time and energy has been put into the study, so I believe it stands a good chance of passing the House, at least."
Lumsden said he's also heard from a lot of people who have lost loved ones, been injured or even bumped from behind by a distracted driver.
Insurance rates in Georgia have been exceeding the national average for several years, he added. And texting drivers who don't notice when a light turns from red to green throw off the signal timing on the road, leading to traffic jams.
"I have very strong feedback from folks out in the community saying, 'Yes, do this,'" he said. "I kind of pushed back against it a few years ago, but once you get into the human toll, ... we need to do something more than what we're doing in the present."