According to information published on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access system over spring break, Lawrence University senior Thomas Skoog was charged with five counts of “possession of child pornography.”
This violation of campus safety angered much of the student body. Seniors Oumou Cisse and Catherine Bentley organized a movement called FULU that included a series of silent protests, the first of which took place on Thursday, March 31. Students gathered outside of Sampson House, the location of President Mark Burstein’s office, with masking tape over their mouths.
Students stood out on the lawn in the rain with a variety of signs with slogans such as “You failed us,” “Why is preparatory comfort valued over survivors?” and “It was legal when I was in school.” Burstein and Director of Wellness and Recreation Erin Buenzli came out of Sampson House and stood with protestors.
“I thought it was incredibly insulting for them to stand out there with us in sort of this purported sense of solidarity. When in reality, not only were they under the roof protected from the rain but they were physically positioned higher than us, like a Western-style standoff. It was completely inappropriate,” said Bentley.
“We were there with the lofty goal of hopefully getting [Vice President for Student Affairs] Nancy [Truesdell] and [Associate Dean of Faculty and Title IX Coordinator Robert Williams] to resign and step down,” continued Bentley. “Also, we hoped to demand accountability from [Truesdell] and [Williams]. We hoped that showing them how angry we are would be enough for them to, at least, issue an apology.”
Williams stated, “I have recommended to the president that Title IX coordination be assigned to a permanent staff position so that the person responsible for coordination can develop greater expertise and devote more attention to Title IX duties. I think that would better serve the university and Lawrence community.” More information related to the topic can be found in Williams’ Letter to the Editor.
“I care deeply about the health, safety and well-being of Lawrentians, and I know that recent circumstances have generated very real pain and anger,” commented Truesdell. “I agree with students who believe that there is more work for all of us to do related to issues surrounding sexual misconduct, and I feel confident that many of us at Lawrence are focused [on] and dedicated to improving the student experience in any way we can.”
Bentley explained that FULU’s continued goal is to “demand that someone takes accountability for the complete mishandling of student safety on campus, not only with the Skoog case, but others as well.”
Cisse and Bentley admitted that the protest was not inclusive to everyone, but depended on the participants’ stage of healing instead. “We acknowledge, accept and respect that maybe this is not ideal and comfortable for some people,” said Bentley. Cisse added, “A big point is that the protest was not an outing process. Showing up was never and will never been indicative of survivorship—just allyship.”
Burstein aimed to more aptly address student concerns in an open meeting held by Student Alliance against Sexual Harassment and Assault (SAASHA). “If I were a student on this campus, I would feel less safe because of this case,” he said. Williams was invited to attend the meeting, but was unable due to a scheduling conflict. Truesdell was not asked to participate.
Burstein hopes to add an additional full-time counselor and give SAASHA a slot during Welcome Week to provide sexual education to incoming freshmen. When faced with similar cases in the future, Burstein will not consult the student body’s opinion when deciding whether or not a student is allowed back on campus, claiming that giving students “full information about a case would be inappropriate.”
Despite student outrage, Burstein stated he will not provide an apology to the student body for how the Skoog case was adjudicated, as it was done fairly under the university’s old sexual misconduct policy. However, Burstein plans to formally apologize for the impact the case has had on the campus community.
“Although the administration claims to be a ‘college that changes lives,’ I don’t think they are brave enough to be part of the movement where colleges all over the country have been adopting mandatory expulsion policies and listening to survivors and helping women feel safe at their schools,” concluded Bentley. “For some reason I don’t think the administration is willing to take that step.”