The out-of-state law firm that LSU hired to investigate the university’s sexual misconduct and intimate partner violence procedures started its work Tuesday. The firm, Husch Blackwell, is expected to produce a public report in February.
“Accountability matters, and if Husch Blackwell finds that any wrongdoing was done by individuals or the university itself, we will take the appropriate steps at that time,” wrote interim LSU President Tom Galligan in a letter to staff and students Wednesday. “We hear the calls for justice and for immediate action, and we are listening – but it is important for us to get this right.”
LSU moved to hire Husch Blackwell after USA Today published an investigation last week revealing that several LSU students’ complaints about sexual assault, intimate partner violence and rape were mishandled or ignored. In all cases, the person accused of misconduct was an LSU football player or fraternity member.
Husch Blackwell, headquartered in Kansas City, specializes in higher education litigation and compliance. The firm has been brought in to help several universities facing sexual harassment scandals, allegations of racism and, more recently, challenges with COVID-19 policies. The firm helped both the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University overhaul its sexual misconduct policies.
While waiting on the firm’s report, Galligan said the school will reach out to student groups that deal with sexual misconduct. School administrators next week will also be meeting with the Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR) organization, which provides counseling and free legal services to victims of sexual violence. It also conducts training on sexual violence prevention.
STAR said last week that it had offered to work more closely with LSU, specifically LSU athletics, a few times over the years, but its requests had mostly been ignored. Now, Racheal Hebert, STAR’s president and CEO, hopes her organization and the university can partner together.
“We have the survivor’s perspective and the student’s perspective,” Hebert said.
STAR operates in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Alexandria, but in its Baton Rouge office, a number of its clients come from LSU. Hebert estimates that one out of every five people that use STAR’s services in Baton Rouge is a LSU student.
Referring to LSU, Hebert said, “We want to make them aware how often the university is relying on STAR.”
In his letter to the LSU community, Galligan said LSU’s staff — particularly those in the athletics department — have been reminded that almost all of the university employees are required to report incidents of sexual misconduct and domestic violence to the university’s Title IX office, which handles such allegations. USA Today found several examples in which staff members in LSU’s athletics department were made aware of domestic violence or potential sexual misconduct from football players — and chose not to tell Title IX officials.
Galligan is also requiring all LSU employees to go through Title IX training before the end of the year. LSU employees are already required to undergo online sexual harassment training once per year under state law.