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Some students at Louisiana State University expressed outrage Friday that employees implicated by a newly released investigation into LSU’s systemic mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints were not immediately fired.
Instead, the school announced, two administrators would face suspensions for their failure to report allegations of sexual misconduct to the proper officials.
The response did not go far enough for many students to hold accountable those whose actions helped foster a culture where sexual misconduct was tolerated.
“There’s a myriad of people who need to be disciplined,” said Angelina Cantelli, a co-founder of the student group Tigers Against Sexual Assault, student government staff member and candidate for student body vice president. “You can’t recognize that you failed, and then keep everything the same and keep the status quo.”
LSU had launched the investigation in November after reporting by USA TODAY found that officials in the university’s athletic department and broader administration repeatedly ignored complaints against abusers, denied victims’ requests for protections and subjected them to further harm by known perpetrators.
The 148-page investigative report into the school’s handling of such complaints was released Friday. Done by outside law firm Husch Blackwell, it echoed USA TODAY’s reporting and named several officials who skirted school policies and federal laws by not taking complaints to the Title IX Office.
At LSU’s Board of Supervisors meeting Friday morning, interim President Thomas Galligan announced that Executive Deputy Athletic Director and Executive Director of External Relations Verge Ausberry, and Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar would face immediate discipline. Ausberry will be suspended without pay for 30 days and Segar 21 days. Both will be assigned additional training for responding to complaints.
Galligan noted that other employees may also be subject to disciplinary action, though he did not name any. Students told USA TODAY the penalties against Ausberry and Segar are inadequate and questioned how the findings outlined in the report could result in no employees losing their jobs.
The lack of harsh disciplinary action is an egregious injustice to the survivors at LSU, said Angel Upshaw, the other co-founder of TASA.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Upshaw. “The disciplinary action was very lenient and inadequate to this severe situation.”
During the meeting, LSU student body president Stone Cox told Galligan and the Board he did not believe students would be satisfied with the discipline issued to Ausberry and Segar.
“The tone is set at the top, and I think we need to set a strong tone going forward,” Cox said. “I’m afraid some of the students will view some of the punishments made today as LSU repeating history for not holding individuals properly accountable.”
Galligan responded that people would be unhappy either way – some would think the punishments are too weak, and others would think they are too harsh. Galligan blamed a failure of the institution itself instead of on any one person. He attributed that to unclear policies, overburdened employees and conflicting directives by supervisors.
“I simply tried to be as fair as I possibly could,” Galligan said.
Students like Cox, Cantelli and Upshaw said they did find the Husch Blackwell investigation to be thorough and appreciated the recommendations Galligan promised to adopt. For some of the survivors of campus sexual misconduct, though, the Husch Blackwell investigation itself was problematic.
Former LSU student Samantha Brennan last year had to sue LSU to get a copy of her own police report after disclosing to Segar that star LSU running back Derrius Guice had taken a partially nude photo of her and shared it with at least one other person, both without her knowledge. Instead of reporting it to the Title IX office, as LSU policy required, Segar steered Brennan to the campus police department, where she filed a report.
No one from the Title IX office ever contacted Brennan. Husch Blackwell noted that this was because Brennan, according to the police report, told a detective she did not want her information shared with the Title IX office and other on-campus services. But Brennan told USA TODAY that the police never explained her Title IX options, instead handing her a stack of pamphlets about various campus support programs, which she said she did not understand.
“I remember hearing ‘Lighthouse’ and maybe ‘Title IX,’ but from what I recall, all I knew about Title IX – until all of this – was that it meant women could play sports,” Brennan said. “I didn’t even know what was supposed to happen. I thought I had the chances to either press charges criminally, or not. I had no idea what I was agreeing to.”
Jade Lewis – a former LSU tennis player who was repeatedly abused by her boyfriend, LSU football player Drake Davis, during her time at school – said the Husch Blackwell report is the first step on the long road to changing LSU's "toxic culture."
"While I have concerns about the report, I acknowledge that the report was generated by a team with no power to compel documents or people, nor was their testimony under oath," Lewis told USA TODAY. She said she knows other people who experienced similar situations at the school but who did not cooperate with investigators for fear of the repercussions.
"I hope more victims come forward during this process," Lewis said, "and that they are treated with respect, honor and equal treatment."
Sidney Gahagan, a student interviewed in Husch Blackwell’s investigation, said the report seems to have omitted her testimony about Jonathan Sanders, the school’s director of Student Advocacy and Accountability, whose job is to issue sanctions to students who violated school rules.
Gahagan said she complained that she felt Sanders did not take her allegations seriously and that he blamed her in part for the assault.
“He should be fired," Gahagan said. "He basically tried to make me feel like it was my fault."
USA TODAY’s reporting found that Sanders had routinely issued light punishments to those found responsible, including deferred suspensions, which amounts to probation and no actual suspension unless a second violation occurs. Husch Blackwell’s report described deferred suspension as LSU’s “sanction of choice.”
Upshaw said she was pleased about a number of the reforms Galligan announced at the board meeting – particularly partnerships by the university and athletic department with Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, a rape crisis center that provides services to victims in Baton Rouge and other parts of the state.
But the reforms did not go far enough, Upshaw said, noting that she will ask the administration to implement additional training and prevention requirements for freshmen.
Morgan Lamandre, the legal director for STAR, said the findings from the Husch Blackwell report were unsurprising, and that she also hopes to see more of a focus on prevention.
“It’s easy to be reactive when there is pressure to make necessary changes,” Lamandre said. “Moving forward, what I am most interested in seeing – not just with LSU but with all higher education institutions in Louisiana – is how they will prioritize prevention and response efforts when we know there will always be limited financial resources to do so. In the end, prevention is true protection for the students, campus community, and institution.”
Elisabeth Andries, another student who participated in the probe, is not confident that LSU will improve going forward absent true accountability for those who mishandled complaints. In her case, the fraternity member who she and another student separately reported for sexual assault was found responsible, but still issued a deferred suspension by Sanders.
“I just don't think it's going to be a huge turning point,” she said about the report’s implications for LSU. “I think it's just going to be one of those things. I mean, unless something else bigger happens. I just think that it's just going to be one of those like, ‘Don't worry, we're taking care of it.’ And they make up these policies, but then they never follow them.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LSU students want school to fire those implicated by investigation