I would like to begin this piece with a warning for anyone who is not comfortable reading about sexual abuse—especially regarding students or minors. As recent statements by The Lawrentian Editorial Board reaffirm, the purpose of journalism is to improve reporting and discourse, not to exploit a tragic situation.
In the following paragraphs, I will strictly discuss my opinion as a student at Lawrence regarding the policies that have contributed to the appalling case of Thomas Skoog. I will refrain from discussing journalistic ethics or even the case itself. As a story in progress with much clarification still needed, I will give parties involved due privacy.
However, I will address the Administration of Lawrence University bluntly and openly. I believe that with their decision to allow Skoog to return, they compromised the safety of Lawrentians, Staff, Appleton and beyond. I also believe that they owe more than just apologies. Immediate changes to the sexual assault policy must be taken if we are to prevent more cases like this one.
But how should we start? What changes should be made? And who should we hold responsible?
In order for Lawrence to truly prevent another case of assault and sexual exploitation on campus, we need to do a better job at monitoring the sexual climate, and ensure that students understand consent. One of the main problems is that the person in charge of reviewing claims of sexual misconduct is also a professor and administrator. Associate Dean of the Faculty and Associate Professor of Education Bob Williams continues to work as an administrator while also serving as the Title IX Coordinator, reviewing allegations of sexual misconduct.
I know people at Lawrence tend to have busy schedules, but no person with such responsibility over our sexual assault policy should be doing so many things. I agree with the various students on campus who call for the creation of a Title IX position to oversee claims of assault.
However, selecting a new Title IX coordinator is not enough. Harsher punishments must be put in place for students who have been convicted of serious sexual crimes. Anyone convicted by the university of rape, sexual assault or sexual exploitation should not be allowed to return. A serious mark should also be placed on their transcript detailing the reasons for expulsion.
What is more, cases like Skoog’s involving serious accusations of rape, assault and exploitation, should be turned over to the authorities outside of campus. Had it not occurred at Lawrence, the alleged offense by Skoog would have landed him in jail. Instead, he was not even expelled.
Violations of the Honor Code such as plagiarism are heavily punished by the university. Yet, it seems that while one can be expelled for citing a quotation improperly, one will not be expelled for sexually assaulting someone.
Speaking of the Honor Code, what exactly happened to the reciprocity in it? We know very little about the first Skoog case, and while privacy is important, I would like full transparency regarding the gravity of the alleged crime. That is, as long as the victim agrees.
While it can be hard for survivors to have information about their attack surface, there is an important safety component at risk with maintaining sentences behind closed doors. Transparency in our policy and decisions can help keep the administration and students accountable as we move on.
It is exactly that lack of transparency which has led to unrest throughout campus with students calling for Vice President for Student Affairs Nancy Truesdell to resign—a demand that I agree with. Although my knowledge is limited, I believe she is to some extent responsible for the punishment that Skoog may or may not have received. If the decision to not expel him was hers, then she must step down or be terminated.
Regardless of who’s decision it was, if someone allowed Skoog back, they ought to be fired. It is the least we can do in order to alleviate the pain of the survivors. I do not believe that Ms. Truesdell is a bad person. While firing Truesdell—or whomever might mean an inconvenience for her or the administration, the damage of their previous decisions goes beyond a salary.
Finally, I would like to thank the courageous students who have come forward demanding re-form and improvement to our current policy. None of the proposals here presented are original. Instead, they are an amalgamation of previous demands, and for this I thank and credit student leaders.
I would also like to send my love and condolences to those who suffered tremendously through this period. I send my most sincere prayers to you all, ensuring you that you are strong, brave and still to see better days.