LSU promises review of Title IX policies, faces calls for resignations, after USA TODAY investigation
Louisiana State University administrators and coaches are under fire after a USA TODAY investigation that found systemic mishandling of sexual misconduct and dating violence complaints by the school.
Hours after Thomas Galligan, LSU’s interim president, released a statement Monday acknowledging the university’s failings and promising a review of its policies, representatives from more than a dozen LSU student groups called for the resignation of anyone who has mishandled Title IX complaints. There has been an outcry from faculty and students on social media, and a protest is scheduled Friday afternoon “for LSU to take responsibility for covering up sexual assault cases.”
“The common word that I saw yesterday was disgust,” said Angel Upshaw, co-president of the LSU student group Tigers Against Sexual Assault. “It showed how much survivors are dismissed and not believed. It was shocking to everyone. This isn’t going to be one of these things that we let blow over.”
Upshaw was among the 26 student leaders who signed the open letter supporting resignation for LSU officials.
“LSU as a community cannot and will not effectively investigate this failure to address past Title IX claims or correct our policies while these administrators and the culture of rape and victim-blaming they have created maintain their positions.”
A USA TODAY investigation published Monday found that officials in the university’s athletic department and broader administration repeatedly have ignored complaints against abusers, denied victims’ requests for protection and subjected them to further harm by known perpetrators.
At least nine football players have been reported to police for accusations of sexual misconduct and dating violence since coach Ed Orgeron took over the team four years ago, records show. The university is known to have disciplined only two of them, and one – former wide receiver Drake Davis – was not expelled until four months after he was convicted of physically abusing his former girlfriend.
Orgeron addressed the story in his weekly teleconference Monday, reading a statement about the need to support and protect survivors and saying he complies with reporting protocols. He declined to address the topic beyond the statement.
USA TODAY also found three cases in which, rather than expelling or suspending male students found responsible for sexual assault, LSU allowed them to stay on campus. The men, non-athletes, received "deferred suspensions," a probationary period during which they must stay out of trouble.
Will Mari, an assistant professor of media law, said students and faculty alike have been talking about the USA TODAY story, both in person and on social media.
“In my class, we spent the first 10 minutes Monday talking about it,” he said. “A lot of my female students were just angry, understandably, and many of them were wanting answers.
“For many of them, I think this confirms their own concerns.”
Olivia James, an opinion columnist at The Reveille, LSU’s student newspaper, told USA TODAY that the first story she wrote for the paper detailed the indifference she experienced from both LSU and the LSU Police Department after a man exposed himself to her while she was walking back to her dorm. After the story ran, James said, LSU PD tried to pressure her into taking it down.
“They wanted to focus on technicalities instead of protecting a student,” James said. “I say all of this to say that it’s not even just about football: Rape culture is the culture at LSU. Silencing women to protect the interests of the university has always been the main priority and students have just about had enough.
“We demand change, and we want it now.”
STAR, which provides sexual assault support resources in Louisiana, said in a statement that “it has been “ignored and dismissed by other departments and programs within the university that we know are hotspots for sexual assault, specifically LSU’s Greek system and the athletics department.”
In April 2017, it sent a letter to Orgeron, then-LSU president F. King Alexander and then-LSU athletic director Joe Alleva expressing concerns with how the athletic department was handling sexual assault prevention efforts.
“STAR received no response to this letter from any of the three individuals we sent it to,” the group said.
In his statement, Galligan announced that LSU has hired law firm Husch Blackwell to do an “independent, comprehensive review of our Title IX policies and procedures.” The probe is supposed to be completed by spring, which is also when Galligan’s time as interim president is due to end.
But USA TODAY’s investigation found the problem is not with LSU’s policies but rather officials and administrators who ignore or sidestep them.
LSU spokesman Jim Sabourin clarified Tuesday that the review will focus on “the entirety” of the Title IX process, from the time allegations are reported to when they are investigated and adjudicated. The review will look at the specific cases mentioned in USA TODAY’s investigation and whether those were handled properly, he said.
"If there are patterns evident in why certain allegations don't make it to the Title IX process, then we need to know why," Sabourin said, adding that a summary of the findings and any recommendations from the review will be made public when it is complete.
Federal law and LSU’s own policies require campus officials to report allegations of sexual violence to the school’s Title IX office to conduct an initial investigation. LSU also requires school officials – coaches included – to report to police if they witness or are told about possible sexual misconduct or dating violence occurring on campus.
Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education.
In the case of Davis, at least seven LSU officials had direct knowledge he was abusing his girlfriend, an LSU women’s tennis player, but they sat on the information for months while Davis continued to assault and strangle her.
Schools often hire outside law firms when they have been accused of widespread Title IX violations. But such investigations don’t guarantee clarity – or change.
When Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton in the wake of its sex abuse scandal, the law firm did only an oral presentation of its findings to the school’s Board of Regents. The university and the firm have said no written report was ever produced so only people at that Board of Regents meeting know what the firm discovered, leading to questions about the firm’s impartiality.
Mari said he and other faculty members he has talked with would have preferred the investigation not have any ties to LSU.
“I would be personally happier to see them ask the governor to send someone,” Mari said.
“I think a lot of us are skeptical on the faculty side,” he added. “I don’t want to speak for all 800 of my fellow faculty, but I would say a lot of us seem wary with that kind of solution.”
But the reaction of students might mean the university has no choice but to be transparent in its findings, and to follow through on recommended changes. An attempt to minimize the USA TODAY investigation drew backlash on social media – LSU punter Zach Von Rosenberg wound up deleting a tweet in which he defended Orgeron’s handling of the cases cited – and the anger is not abating.
Jack Green, a co-author of the letter that called for the resignation of “any administration or staff of LSU or LSU athletics who have either actively mishandled, suppressed Title IX claims, or have knowledge of the mishandling or suppression and failed to act,” said representatives from several additional student groups have added their names since it was first issued late Monday.
Caroline Schroeder was featured in USA TODAY’s investigation Monday as one of two women who separately reported a fraternity member for sexual assault. Although she had requested that her name not be included in the story, she changed her mind afterward when she said she experienced an outpouring of support from fellow students and on social media.
“I’m pleasantly surprised by the almost universal support for the survivors in the story and disappointment in LSU,” Schroder said. “I expected to see a lot more skeptical people, but the generally positive response has calmed my nerves.”
As for LSU’s response, Schroeder said Galligan’s statement is “not going to cut it.”
“I didn’t have any issue with the current policy,” she said. “The issue is simply that they need to follow the current policy as it’s currently written.”